London, 1806 - William Thornhill, happily wedded to his childhood sweetheart Sal, is a waterman on the River Thames. Grenville's skill is to turn what could have been too obviously a representative moral fable into a rich novel of character. Life is tough but bearable until William makes a mistake, a bad mistake for which he and his family are made to pay dearly. It tells the story of William Thornhill and his wife Sarah (Sal) from their childhood together in London, through William's career as a Waterman, his eventual transportation to New South Wales and the life his family made for themselves in the harsh landscape of 19th century Australia. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize and awarded the Commonwealth Writer's Prize, the story of William Thornhill and his journey from London to the other side of the world has moved and exhilarated hundreds of thousands of readers. The Idea of Perfection won the 2001 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction and became a long-running bestseller.

Grenville's thorough research is apparent in the level of detail about everyday life in the new colony, detail that gives the reader a good idea of how life was for the early settlers. Her previous novel, The Idea of Perfection, won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2001 and became a long-running bestseller. In 2006 The Secret River won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
It is in itself an amazing story, beginning with Grenville's great-great-great grandfather.
Their mutual awareness gives the couple a convincing weight as well as engaging the reader's sympathy and deepening the narrative tension. Searching For The Secret River, the story behind this novel, is also available from Canongate, alongside her first novel, Lilian's Story, and The Lieutenant.

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. In order that he and his family survive, William Thornhill finds himself not only turning a blind eye to injustices, but eventually taking part in atrocities he never dreamed he would encounter.
She pursues him from Sydney to London and back, and slowly she begins to realise she must write about him.

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