Skip to main content

The Worst Thing That We Can Do In Life is Forget About the Past: a Reflection on Kate Grenville's The Secret River





Even though originally I thought that my blog would include a lot of 'reviews' and 'reflections' of various stories and novels, it hasn't really happened that way, but here is a first... 

The Secret River by Kate Grenville tells the story of William Thornhill, a boatman who was caught stealing a load of wood and was subsequently deported, along with his wife Sal, to the New South Wales. Set at the turn of the 18th century, the novel provides a frank portrayal of life in the new colony and out in the frontier country.

Unlike other writers, such as Patrick White's Voss, Peter Carey's The True History of the Kelly Gang and the various poems and stories of Barbara Baynton, Joseph Furphy and Henry Lawson, that have tried to capture a particular 18th century life in the Australian bush, Grenville brings a certain dirtiness to the story. We are taken in on every part of the the lives of Thornhills. Although there is clearly a high point in the novel, the story is more about life. As readers, we feel for them, for the lives that they have been sentenced to, for the decisions that they make. I do not think that I have felt so emotional as a reader since reading George Elliot's Middlemarch. Although clearly a different book altogether, set in a different world, with vastly different characters, both novels take us on a inner journey.

I think that they irony of Thornhill's journey is that in investing so much thought and emotion into the characters and the lives we are lead back to our own lives - both personally and culturally. We are faced with the question, what would you have done? Could life have been any different? 

In the end, I think that the purpose of the novel is to remind us that there is always a 'secret river' hidden beneath the surface, the uncanny past waiting to unsettle us. As Grenville writes in the novel about Thornhill and his new abode, "His children's children would would walk around on the floorboards and never know what was beneath their feet." Although the past is the past, the worst thing that we can do is to forget about it.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Tree - A Metaphor for Learning

I remember in Year Four Ms. Bates teaching us about how trees grew. She explained that they reach to the sun and it is for that reason that they are not always straight. I am sure there is more to it than this, but Ms. Bates story really stuck with me, maybe because of its simplicity, but I think because it completely changed the way that I looked at the world around me. Thinking about it today makes me think that learning might be the same.
I remember when my wife and I moved into our house we planted a series of lilly pillies down the side of property. The thought was that they would provide some screening and a bit more privacy. Clearly we weren't going to let them grow to their potential height of 100 metres as the tag suggested that they could in their natural surroundings, rather we would mould and shape them. As a plant, they are not only hardy, but they grow relatively straight and never lose their foliage.  .  Since planting them, it has been interesting watching them grow. …

Goodbye Blogger ... Hello Domain

For the last few weeks I've been living in two spaces, this space and my new home at www.readwriterespond.com. I've been doing a bit of renovating, touching up a few things, but the time has come to say goodbye. Blogger was a great space in which to start. I loved the simplicity. However, asking to borrow the keys each time kind of had its limits. Instead I've gone and reclaimed my own domain. So if you want to continue the conversation, you can catch me over there. If your interested in setting up your own space, speak with +Jim Groom and the team at www.reclaimhosting.com or check out the original Blog Talk episode ...

Leveraging Twitter - My Thoughts on How To Make the Most of Every Situation

I recently got involved in a conversation about the best use of social media, in particular Twitter, to engage and gain traction with a wider audience. Often people are simply told to collectively tweet at a certain time and that will be enough to get something to trend, but really is that enough? For it is one thing to sign up to Twitter and put out a few tweets, but it is another thing to gain interest in your cause online. Fine you could simply write the same tweet hundreds of times and you might get something literally trending, however traction in my view is much more complicated than simply getting something trending. For who is watching? How are they actually responding? And most importantly, how will they respond if you use the same strategy again and again?
The reality is that there is a fine line between engaging and disengaging someone online (and offline for that matter too). Many people seem to think that traction is simply a numbers game, but this is naive and far too sim…