Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews 'The Secret River' by Kate Grenville

Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews 'The Secret River' by Kate Grenville

The Secret River

by Kate Grenville

Text Publishing, $45 pb, 354 pp, 1920885757

Kate Grenville is a brave woman. For some years now, the representation of Aboriginal people by white writers has been hedged about by a thicket of post­colonial anxieties, profoundly problematic and important but too often manifested as hostile, holier-than-thou critique, indulging, at its most inept, in wilfully skewed readings of the fiction in order to fit the thesis. As if that were not enough, there has also been a bit of a backlash over the last year or two against the writing of any kind of historical fiction, on the grounds that contemporary Australia is quite awful enough to be going on with, and badly needs to be addressed by its artists.

Grenville, aware that one way of confronting the present is to interrogate the past, has forged ahead undaunted with a novel that tells a story of the convict system, Australian contact history, and the depredations of white settlement. She will no doubt be branded a black-armband novelist by one side and a cultural appropriator by the other. And in presenting the emotional complexities and moral dilemmas of all the various players, she will get into trouble with almost everybody. But readers with no predetermined case to prove and no ego investment in any particular critical position will take this novel as it comes and will make up their own minds about it.

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Kerryn Goldsworthy

Kerryn Goldsworthy

Kerryn Goldsworthy won the 2013 Pascall Prize for cultural criticism, and the 2017 Horne Prize for her essay ‘The Limit of the World’. A former Editor of ABR (1986–87), she is one of Australia’s most prolific and respected literary critics. Her publications include several anthologies, a critical study of Helen Garner, and her book Adelaide, which was shortlisted for a Victorian Premier’s Literary Award. In November 2012 she was named as the inaugural ABR Ian Potter Foundation Fellow. Her Fellowship article on reviewing, ‘Everyone’s a Critic’, appeared in the May 2013 issue of ABR.

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Published in August 2005 no. 273

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