Sarah Thornhill (Grenville)

Sarah Thornhill (Thornhill Trilogy 3)
Kate Grenville, 2012
352 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780802120243

In the final book of a trilogy that began with her bestselling novel, The Secret River, Commonwealth Prize–winner Kate Grenville returns to the youngest daughter of the Thornhills and her quest to uncover, at her peril, the family’s hidden legacy.

Sarah is the youngest child of William Thornhill, the pioneer at the center of The Secret River. Unknown to her, her father—an uneducated ex-convict from London—has built his fortune on the blood of Aboriginal people. With a fine stone house and plenty of money, Thornhill has re-invented himself. As he tells his daughter, he “never looks back,” and Sarah grows up learning not to ask about the past. Instead her eyes are on handsome Jack Langland, whom she’s loved since she was a child. Their romance seems destined, but the ugly secret in Sarah’s family is poised to ambush them both.

As she did with The Secret River, Grenville once again digs into her own family history to tell a story about the past that still resonates today. Driven by the captivating voice of the illiterate Sarah—at once headstrong, sympathetic, curious, and refreshingly honest—this is an unforgettable portrait of a passionate woman caught up in a historical moment of astonishing turmoil. (From the publisher.)

The first two books in the Thornhill Trilogy are (1) The Secret River ... and (2) The Lieutenant

Author Bio 
Birth—October 14, 1950
Where—Sydney, Australia
Education—B.A. University of Sydney; M.A. University of   
Awards—Vogel Award (Australia); Orange Prize;
   Commonwealth Writers Prize, Short-listed, Booker Prize
Currently—lives in Sydney, Australia

Kate Grenville was born in Sydney, Australia. After completing an Arts degree at Sydney University she worked in the film industry (mainly as an editor) before living in the UK and Europe for several years and starting to write.

In 1980 she went to the USA and completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Colorado, where her teachers included Ron Sukenick, Robert Steiner and Steve Katz.

On her return to Australia in 1983 she worked at the Subtitling Unit for SBS Television. In 1984 her first book, a collection of stories—Bearded Ladies—was published.

Since then she's published six novels and four books about the writing process (one co-written with Sue Woolfe).

The Secret River (2005) has won many prizes, including the Commonwealth Prize for Literature and the Christina Stead Prize, and has been an international best-seller. (It also formed the basis for a Doctorate of Creative Arts from University of Technology, Sydney) The Idea of Perfection (2000) won the Orange Prize.

Her other works of fiction have been published to acclaim in Australia and overseas and have won state and national awards.  Much-loved novels such as Lilian's Story (1985), Dark Places (1995), and Joan Makes History (1988) have become classics, admired by critics and general readers alike.

Lilian's Story was filmed starring Ruth Cracknell, Toni Collette and Barry Otto. Dream House was filmed under the title Traps, starring Jacqueline MacKenzie.

Kate Grenville's novels have been widely published in translation, and her books about the writing process are used in many writing courses in schools and universities.

She lives in Sydney with her family. (From the author's website.)

Book Reviews
It is with often marvelous vividness and clarity that Grenville evokes Sarah’s world.... Through the eyes of this young woman, the physical and cultural strangeness of a nation still clambering into existence spring richly to life.
Guardian (UK)

Sarah Thornhill displays [Grenville’s] gift for creating character full blaze.... A great work of truth.... What unfolds is a box of surprises, richly wrapped in language so colorful and lively, you can taste it.... You believe in [Sarah’s] honesty, her perceptiveness, her way of ‘reading’ others.... A wonderful novel.

Grenville’s extraordinary trilogy is a major achievement in Australian literature.
Australian Book Review

A moving piece of fiction.... Powerfully realized.... Sarah Thornhill is the book of a writer of the first rank.... A haunting performance.
Age (Australia)

A powerful saga of colliding histories [that] blends romance and honesty.
Independent (Ireland)

A beguiling love story.... The voice of illiterate Sarah is Grenville’s great triumph.... An imaginatively convincing recreation of history and a celebration of country tenderly and beautifully observed, but above all it is a powerful plea for due acknowledgement and remembrance of the veils of the past.
Adelaide Advertiser

Revisits the fascinating, trouble territory of the history wars.... Grenville’s vivid fiction performs as testimony, memory, and mourning within the collective post-colonial narrative.

This is a beautiful book, one that pulses with insight and compassion.... Grenville’s descriptions are a delicate fretwork of words.... Not only is Sarah Thornhill gorgeously written, but the love story at its heart is as real and true as it is unexpected. This is a novel that will be treasured by generations to come. It is that rare book that manages to wholly engage both head and heart. Grenville has done a splendid job.
Canberra Times

Grenville's great strength is her sensual fleshing-out of the past.... Her vision of our colonial history is at once compelling and fable-like, as she writes contemporary white self-knowledge back into it.
Monthly (Australia)

A captivating tale of a woman's fight to find an identity of her own in a "new" colony. [Grenville's] wonderful account shows how hard it can be simply to be yourself.... A deeply moving conclusion to a romantic but by no means sentimental story.
Telegraph (UK)

A wrenching conclusion to a tough-hearted trilogy about the colonizing of Australia…With characters whose pasts are as dark and broken as these, it's impossible to trust the local settlers' favorite claim: "Never looked back." In fact, the members of this crew are always looking over their shoulders, sometimes to their detriment. And because of that, Sarah Thornhill is a novel that can't be easily categorized—exuberant, cruel, surprising, a triumphant evocation of a period and a people filled with both courage and ugliness.
Susann Cokal - New York Times Book Review

Sarah Thornhill, the youngest daughter of a wealthy yet provincial British ex-convict, grows up in 19th-century Australia learning not to ask questions about her family's past. When Sarah falls in love with a local man whose mother was Aboriginal, her chance at happiness is shattered by the racial and class prejudice churning within her family and Australia's burgeoning white society.... Verdict: Grenville concludes the Thornhill family saga and her exploration of Australian history begun in The Secret River, winner of the Commonwealth Prize and shortlisted for the Man Booker, and continued in The Lieutenant. This is a more subdued but equally exceptional historical novel, with multilayered characters and a beautifully styled plot. Fans of literary fiction will clamor for this final volume. —Kelsy Peterson, Prairie Village, KS
Library Journal

The saga of the Thornhill clan in early-19th-century Australia concludes in the final volume of Commonwealth Writer's Prize winner Grenville's (The Secret River, 2006, etc.) trilogy. Sarah Thornhill is the youngest daughter of William Thornhill, a man "sent out" from England in 1806 to New South Wales. Years later, with Sarah on the cusp of womanhood, Thornhill has become a prosperous river freighter, landowner and landlord... While the story is fictional, the book instructs on Australia's early history: the land; the wealth to be made from sheep, seals and whales; the conflict between those who had "worn the broad arrow," arriving as convicts, and those who came from proper society; and the oppressive and often bloody relationship between white settlers and the aboriginal people, termed "blacks." .... Beautifully written, with sufficient backstory to be enjoyed without first reading the previous two installments, this novel can be read as a dissection of a cultural clash or an allegory for colonialism, but at heart, the novel uses fiction to search for reason within history.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. “The Hawkesbury was a lovely river, wide and calm, the water dimply green, the cliffs golden in the sun, and white birds roosting in the trees like so much washing. It was a sweet thing of a still morning, the river-oaks whispering and the land standing upside down in the water” (p. 3). How does this sanctity of the land pervade the novel? For which characters is the land most important? When is it desecrated and why?

2. “Three Irish in a house together, can’t go long without some of the old songs.... Paddy...stood in the corner with his eyes closed and out of the fiddle came a wild keening voice.... After a time Maeve lifted up her voice and sang along with the fiddle, the words caressing the music as it went up and down.... And there was Daunt...the tears stand glittering in his eyes.... I was the only one dry-eyed. That was what it was to belong to a place. To be brought undone by the music of the land where you’d been born. Us currency lads and lasses had no feeling like that about the land we call ours. It had no voice that we could hear, no song we could sing. Nothing but a blank where the past was. Emptiness, like a closed room, at our backs” (pp. 196-197). How does this emptiness propel Sarah’s search for meaning in the book?

3. Have you ever read a novel whose characters are complex and subtle, yet totally illiterate? Is it surprising there is no culture of books or schools in the Thornhill family? How does living with Daunt and his books affect Sarah? “Gone away into reading like another country where I could never follow” (p. 197).

4. When there is no written history, how is knowledge of the past further complicated by secrets and tangled suppositions? What are some of these secrets and suppositions?

5. Will Sarah’s compulsion to tell her story and that of her family force her to learn her letters? “But of all the crimes done, the worst would be to let the story slip away. For what it’s worth, mine had best take its place, in with all the others” (p. 304).

6. William Thornhill was a man who “never looked back” (p. 3). He is who he is, someone who has to create his own story and legacy. “As far as some people went, ‘sent out’ meant tainted for all time” (p. 5). How do success and money have a way of blunting the hard shapes of the past? Consider the transformation of “emancipist” into “old colonist.”

7. What is one part of his past that Thornhill cannot ignore? “So what was that terrible twisting across his face? That thing that was like an animal eating away at him from the inside?” (p. 30).

8. What are the varying attitudes toward native people? Mrs. Thornhill? Mrs. Langland? Maeve? And how about Daunt? He says “These are folk too clever to break their backs heaving dirt. I’ve come round to the view that a man shouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to judge them. I’d say no more than this, that their ways are not the same as our ways” (p. 211). Is his tolerance shared by others? How has Anglo-Irish history shaped his views? (see p. 218).

9. What draws Sarah and Jack together? What do they have in common in their young childhood? What is Will’s role in their growing closeness?

10. Does Sarah ever grow to see a validation of her parents’ separating her from Jack? How did they accomplish this split?

11. When Sarah makes her extraordinary journey to New Zealand, what motivates her to abandon child and husband for the dangerous sea voyage? Is it expiation? For her? For her father? Sarah goes to give. What does she gain?

12. What is Jack’s role in Sarah’s quest to New Zealand? “Would there never be an end to it, the hole in my life where Jack should of been?” (p. 209).

13. How do the native New Zealand traditions incorporate and pass on events of the past? Consider both the songlines and the visible story lines of the tattoos.

14. What are the ways Jack reclaims his own maternal heritage? Has his own quest, one that required his rejecting the Langland family and the only world he can remember, resulted in peace and belonging for him? Do you think his seafaring years provided him fortitude?

15. Grenville speaks in her acknowledgments notes about “the possibility of a story that was not just about the past, but the present and its unfinished business” (p. 307). What is suggested about the larger world, not only Australia and New Zealand? Does Sarah herself grow to take comfort in feeling like part of a bigger world, one that existed before her and would exist long after?

16. Robert Hughes in The Fatal Shore wrote that Britain “had hoped that transportation would do four things: sublimate, deter, reform, and colonize.”  From what you know about Australia, was the policy a success?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

top of page (summary)

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2018