Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville
Gosh, what a shame. Where The Secret River had a deserved debutante sparkle and The Lieutenant had an adventurous and poetic grace, Sarah Thornhill is an underwhelming tag-along. The three novels comprise a loose trilogy set in colonial Australia, but where the first two are strong stand-alone novels, Sarah Thornhill is weak and necessarily propped up by the earlier two.
Weaknesses appear quickly: the idiom is contrived and is semantically inconsistent; the identity of the narrator is confused between Dolly and Sarah; racial themes are bungled and cultural dynamics lack credibility; an adventure heavily alluded to and foreshadowed throughout the whole story never appears. The timing of the novel is oddly weighted - it seems like Grenville was in such a rush to be done with it that the loose ends are hastily wrapped up in nonchalent vagaries, tied off with an assertion that the story continues elsewhere.
Perhaps Grenville is trying to set up a family saga á la Wilbur Smith (insert grimacing face) or as a precursor to McCullough’s Thorn Birds, but hopefully not. Something nice to say… it is quite romantic and you do pine for the starcrossed lovers. And, for Twilight fans, the book contains the first example of ‘imprinting’ outwith a contrived werewolf-vampire-fantasyland. [Renee Rowland]