The saga of the Thornhill clan in early-19th-century Australia concludes in the final volume of Commonwealth Writer’s Prize winner Grenville’s (The Secret River, 2006, etc.) trilogy.
Sarah Thornhill is the youngest daughter of William Thornhill, a man “sent out” from England in 1806 to New South Wales. Years later, with Sarah on the cusp of womanhood, Thornhill has become a prosperous river freighter, landowner and landlord of Thornhill’s Point along the Hawkesbury River. Sarah’s voice illuminates the tale, a voice true to a woman left illiterate in a time when land and sheep were treasured more than learning from a book. While the story is fictional, the book instructs on Australia’s early history: the land; the wealth to be made from sheep, seals and whales; the conflict between those who had “worn the broad arrow,” arriving as convicts, and those who came from proper society; and the oppressive and often bloody relationship between white settlers and the aboriginal people, termed “blacks.” The latter element provides the fundamental conflict within the novel, with Sarah falling in love with Jack Langland, a neighbor’s half-aboriginal son and sailing partner of Sarah’s older brother. Because of an ugly family secret, revealed only to Jack by Sarah's abusive stepmother, marriage between the two is impossible. Instead Sarah marries John Daunt, a wealthy Irishman, who owns a sheep farm out near the Limit of Location. When Sarah is sent word that her father is dying, she travels to Thornhill’s Point and learns the secret that kept Jack from marrying her. “Once you knew, there was no way to not know.” Jack soon returns from New Zealand, where he’s married a Maori woman, and asks Sarah to fulfill an obligation that might lead to a measure of reconciliation.
Beautifully written, with sufficient backstory to be enjoyed without first reading the previous two installments, this novel can be read as a dissection of a cultural clash or an allegory for colonialism, but at heart, the novel uses fiction to search for reason within history.