London, 1807. William Thornhill, happily wedded to his childhood sweetheart Sal, is a waterman on the River Thames. Life is tough but bearable until William makes a mistake, a bad mistake for which he and his family are made to pay dearly. His sentence: to be transported to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. The Thornhills arrive in this harsh and alien land that they cannot understand and which feels like a death sentence. But among the convicts there is a rumour that freedom can be bought, that 'unclaimed' land up the Hawkesbury offers an opportunity to start afresh, far away from the township of Sydney. When William takes a hundred acres for himself he is shocked to find Aboriginal people already living on the river. And other recent arrivals - Thomas Blackwood, Smasher Sullivan and Mrs Herring - are finding their own ways to respond to them. Soon Thornhill, a man neither better nor worse than most, has to make the most difficult decision of his life.
* A vivid evocation of the rawest kind of colonialism. -- Jem Poster Books * Winner of the 2001 Orange Prize for Fiction with The Idea of Perfection, Grenville's latest, beautifully written novel concerns William Thornhill, a 19th-century convict from London deported to Australia, where he staked a claim on ancient Aboriginal lands - with tragic consequences. Financial Times * In one stroke the author captures both Sullivan's emotional dependence and Will's compassion. Will's relationship with Sal is frequently fortified by such psychological insights. Their mutual awareness gives the couple a convincing weight as well as engaging the reader's sympathy and deepening the narrative tension. By this stage, what started as a sumptuous historical with its brilliantly atmospheric depiction of Georgian London's Stygian gloom, has developed into a profound journey of self discovery. Independent on Sunday * Ambitious new novel... Grenville's skill is to turn what could have been too obviously a representative moral fable into a rich novel of character. Sunday Telegraph * We have had to wait five years for The Secret River but the wait has been worth it...Splendidly paced, passionate and disturbing. The Times