Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville


The sequel to The Secret River (my blog entry here) is the story of Will Thornhill's daughter Sarah.  The story of her discovery of her father's part in the massacre of Aborigines that is central to that book is told here by her. It is a rich and complex story and includes appealing characters (except for the wicked stepmother).

Sarah was born in 1816, at the very end of The Secret River story; in her youth, the blacks were mostly absent from the white settlement in the Hawksbury River area.  She falls in love with her brother's friend Jack, whose father was a convict and his mother a black woman.  Turns out the family is ok with the friendships, but marriage to Jack is out of the question.  After her brother's death by shipwreck while hunting seals with Jack, the family learns that Will (the brother) had a Maori wife and daughter in New Zealand.  Jack agrees to bring the daughter to the family and ugliness erupts.

Sarah is fortunate to be taken out of the morass by a recent arrival to New South Wales, an Englishman who grew up in Ireland.  Sarah asks Daunt about the moral question of the English in Australia. 

I couldn't tell you, he said.  I think about it and I don't know.  But it does put me in mind of the tenants back home.  The Irish.  Once upon a time they owned the whole of Ireland.  Then the English came.  My lot.  Took it away, one acre at a time.  Now there's not an Irishman left hardly that owns his own land.  No doubt about him, Daunt was never a man to jump the way you thought he would.

This paragraph reveals both the pleasing and interesting characters in the book and the language which by design lacks Grenville's beautiful lyrical prose descriptions.  Nevertheless, this is wonderful novel that satisfies my requirements for excellence.  The characters seem real and complete and the moral questions clearly posed without a pat answer.

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