Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville

Rosemary Sorensen | Bendigo Weekly | 12-Oct-2011 12.40pm

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Kate Grenville’S Sarah Thornhill picks up the story of The Secret River family who settle on the banks of the Hawkesbury River with vision to prosper and make themselves respectable.

But, as readers of The Secret River know, along the way these settlers did things they would later regret, and in Sarah Thornhill, the secrets of the past rise up to cast, as Grenville writes, a “long chill shadow”.

Grenville has taken her own family history as inspiration for her novels. Her forebear Solomon Wiseman was transported to Sydney in 1806 like Thornhill in her books. 

After The Secret River was published, a “distant relative” got in touch and said a family anecdote had it that Wiseman’s daughter “fell pregnant to the gardener and died”. 

“This felt like a nudge in the ribs from the cosmos, so I went back to the archives,” Grenville says.

The result is this swiftly-moving, surprising novel, which reads like a mystery story, but also fills in deftly parts of our colonial history. 

Grenville took more than 20 drafts to get the plot right on this one, but all that hard work hardly shows. The people are real, and places come alive. 


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