Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Cornstalks

How was your New Year's Eve?  Mine looked like this.

Time was, reading was one of the things that defined me.  One of the reasons I knit is because I can knit and read at the same time (rather than cross-stitch, embroidery or some other needlecraft I enjoyed).

Reading dropped off as caring for Mum became more demanding.  I didn't have the brainspace or the time for someone else's story.  For other carers books become a refuge but for me it wasn't so - there was always something else that needed to be done.

So I am becoming a reader again, or trying to.  Over the Christmas break I read the third of Kate Grenville's books about the fictional Thornhill family in colonial Australia.

Sarah Thornhill is both the title and protagonist of the book.  Sarah is the youngest child of William Thornhill, a transported convict and his wife, Sarah.  She is a currency lass or cornstalk - the first generation of European children born in the colony of NSW. These books have their inception in Grenville's own family history. 

When the first of the trilogy, The Secret River, was released, it caused a debate about fiction and history and Grenville has obviously emerged bruised from the engagement

For me, both The Secret River and Sarah Thornton are obviously fiction (while being based on some family history). It is up to the reader to pursue the history and neither is presented as actual history.
The novel explores the issues of being rootless, of disposession and the disposessed, generational guilt and Reconciliation. The themes are very current and it seems to me rather blugeons the reader - it doesn't feel subtle. There is a definite agenda being pushed.

The book presents some stylistic issues.  There is no indication of direct speech which really annoys me.  Without quotation marks for speech I find myself having to think about whether the words are spoken or descriptive and it detracts from the meaning of the words if I'm worried about the construction.

Speaking of construction, does anyone know if toe-up sock knitting was current in the 1830s?  Knitting appears in the hands of Sarah's sister who is reported as being half way up the leg of a stocking.  It niggled but is a minor concern.

The second book of the trilogy, The Lieutenant, is in the pile beside my bed. The books are stand-alone and can be enjoyed singly or in any order.  And they are very enjoyable.  Grenville continues to be a favourite author.  The Idea of Perfection (the 1999 Orange Prize winner) is one of my favourite novels.

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