The Secret River, by Kate Grenville, tells the story of a convict from London who is transported to Australia in the early 1800s and sets out to create a new life for himself and his family. In doing so, he must contend with the natives who were already living on the land.
I found the beginning and end of the book most engaging, while the middle somewhat lost my interest. The stories of settlers in “new” (to them) lands are not ones that especially grab me. I read this book because it sounded like it would go beyond the simple settler story to address something more universal. In some ways, it did. I think Grenville did a good job of making the main character sympathetic, despite the atrocious ways he behaves near the end of the book. The ending was especially good here, because it showed that despite getting what he wanted, life was not all roses in the end.
It is likely that her portrayal of the white settlers’ behavior in Australian is fairly accurate, but it still bothered me greatly to read about how cruel people were towards the natives. The book did a decent job of showing the mindset of some of these people and what could propel them towards certain behavior, but it only went so far and still left me wondering in the end how people could act with such cruelty. Furthermore, this book tells a story strictly from the whites’ perspectives. We do not see what the natives think or feel about things other than through the whites’ interpretation of their behavior.
In the end, I think The Secret River is well-written, but I was disappointed that it did not pull me in as much as I was hoping. I believe there is a sequel, and I am not sure whether I will read it or not.