Sarah Thornhill (2011)
Winner of the ABIA Award for General Fiction Book of the Year
Finalist for the Prime Minister's Literary Award
Finalist for the IBW Book Award (UK)
Finalist for the Queensland Literary Prize
Longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award.
When The Secret River – a novel about frontier violence in early Australia – appeared in 2005, it became an immediate best-seller. It also caused controversy for its unflinching depiction of Australia's past. In the follow-up novel, The Lieutenant, I explored other aspects of the first contact between white and black – in sunlight rather than shadow this time. Sarah Thornhill extends the story into the next generation.
This is the story of the youngest child of the family at the heart of The Secret River. Although this is a sequel to the earlier book, you don’t need to have read The Secret River to enjoy Sarah Thornhill – this is a stand-alone novel.
Sarah is born in 1816, her father an ex-convict who’s made good in the new colony of Australia. Three hundred acres, a fine stone house, the money rolling in – William Thornhill is a man who’s re-invented himself. As he tells his daughter, he never looks back, and Sarah grows up learning not to ask about the past.
Her stepmother calls her wilful, but handsome Jack Langland loves Sarah and she loves him. Me and Jack, she thinks, what could go wrong?
But there’s a secret in the Thornhill family. It comes out, as secrets will, and draws everything into its tangles. It casts a long chill shadow over life in the Hawkesbury valley.
That secret propels Sarah backwards, into the darkness of her family’s past. And it propels her forwards, into a future very different from the one she’d imagined for herself. She travels across the ocean to the wild coasts of New Zealand, and among the strangers of that other place she sees the way things truly are.
Sarah Thornhill is set in the past, but it’s as much about today as about yesterday. It’s about the dark legacies hidden in families, about love and unlooked-for happiness, and about keeping stories alive.
Along with The Secret River and The Lieutenant, this novel forms the third book in the “Colonial Trilogy”. The Lieutenant tells the story of the first generation of Europeans in Australia, when conversation between black and white was still possible. The Secret River is about the next generation, when that conversation was closed down by violence. Sarah Thornhill is about the third generation, the ones who have to deal with what the past has created, and have the responsibility to tell its story.
To read about where the book started, and how it evolved through the research and the writing, click on “Background to the book”. There are also discussion-starters for book groups, reviews and an extract from the book.
Sarah Thornhill is published in Australia by Text Publishing.