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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Shining A Light On Australia's Brutal Origins

Sarah Thornhill - Kate Grenville

The sequel to Kate Grenville’s 2005 novel, The Secret River, Sarah Thornhill is a tremendously powerful story that shines a light upon modern Australia’s brutal origins and the damage that colonialism wreaks not just upon the indigenous population but also upon the victors and their children.

This novel's predecessor ended with a massacre of the local aborigines by a group of settlers. It’s an event that has been thoroughly covered up in the intervening period but it broods over this whole story, nonetheless, blighting the love story that is at its heart.

Despite the shadow that lies over the protagonists, however, this is a wonderfully sensuous novel full of the beauty and texture of ordinary life. Here is the author’s description of Jack sharpening knives:

He sat on Pa’s bench, the whetstone on his knee, a bit of rag underneath to save his trousers, dripped the oil on the stone. Picked up one of the knives, an old one with the point broken off.
Wouldn't cut butter, he said. No one in this house got any idea of putting an edge on a blade.
Smoothed the knife against the stone, turning his hand one way, then the other. That sweet stropping sound.
Pa come out with his pipe and a drink of tea, sat watching.
Your mother fetched that out from London when we come, he said. In her bundle. Little enough we had by then, but you had to have a knife. Got if off a man in End Lane, broken like that when we got it, but your mother said, it’ll see us out, and here it is, on the other side of the world, still good.

In many ways that broken knife serves as an emblematic object for all the central characters, symbolising the limits that have been placed upon their dreams, for no matter how much Jack sharpens it, he can never replace the broken tip.