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The Secret River: 10/14/07

The Secret River

I heard The Secret River on Radio 4 and was fascinated with the setting: the Hawkesbury river in the early nineteenth century. In 1990 I had the great fortune to backpack along this river and saw first hand the remains of many of these early homesteads. So the setting was already quite vivid in my imagination.

In fact it was my own personal connection to the Hawkesbury that kept me reading The Secret River. The book touches on of my major literary pet peeves: the complete disregard for quotation marks to note dialogue. Italics or other options make it difficult for me to focus on the what is being said and by whom. Everything ends up sounding in my head as if it is being spoken in a tin can.

Fortunately though, Grenville doesn't use much dialogue. Her story is mostly told in the head of William Thornhill Sr. who is given a last minute second change to redeem himself as a convict and become a free man and settler of Australia. He takes along his wife, Sal, their children and works throughout the book to never have to steel again to feed his family. Most of the experiences of the family are filtered through Thornhill's senses and he is a man of few words.

If you are a reader who also is bothered by non conformist punctuation, I suggest finding an audio version. It is a very good story.

Comments (3)

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Comment #1: Monday, October, 15, 2007 at 07:05:33


I read a manuscript once that used a combination of different fonts and italics for narrative, dialogue, internal thoughts, and dream sequences. It was a good story, but extremely hard to read."

Comment #2: Monday, October, 15, 2007 at 21:00:44


What a good idea, to get an audiobook if a book has punctuation that will bother you. I should have done that with The Road. But I'm just discovering the world of audiobooks. I tried them years ago for driving, but my mind wanders. Now we're listening to The Grapes of Wrath at bedtime, and I fall asleep, but it's ok because I know the story. So when my husband sees I'm asleep, he turns it off, and the next day he starts it where it left off, and it's ok that I miss parts, since I'm so familiar with the story. "

Comment #3: Tuesday, October, 16, 2007 at 15:57:08


I've discovered that the lack of proper punctuation, especially quotes, does bother me a bit. I found it annoying when I read The Road. And I like the way you explained it, PR. The tin can reference is great."

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