Kate Grenville’s SARAH THORNHILL

I’ve been dying to read this book all year and was very excited when I received an advanced copy. However the cover immediately caught my eye. The covers for Kate Grenville two previous novels, THE SECRET RIVER and THE LIEUTENANT, were both very evocative of the Australian landscape and I think appealed to both male and female readers. However the cover for SARAH THORNHILL was markedly different. There is still a beautiful landscape picture but that is the background to a headshot of a young woman. My immediate reaction was that it made the book look like an ‘outback romance’.

Now don’t get me wrong I have nothing against ‘outback romances’ but they’re not my kind of book. Nor do I think they are most male readers kind of book which is why I was concerned about the cover because I think it puts male readers off. Despite gender biases which I’ve blogged about previously, a lot of male readers read THE SECRET RIVER and THE LIEUTENANT and I saw the cover for SARAH THORNHILL as an impediment to this continuing. I queried the cover with the publisher and my concerns about its ‘outback romance’ look. The publisher felt that the cover actually did represent the book. This dampened my excitement for reading the book and instead of reading SARAH THORNHILL straight away it fell a peg or two in my to read pile. However I did pick it up and was very excited to find that it was not a departure from the two previous novels and was definitely NOT an ‘outback romance’. Funnily one of the books I chose to read ahead of SARAH THORNHILL was THE MARRIAGE PLOT by Jeffrey Eugenides and while one level SARAH THORNHILL might be ‘outback romance’ it is actually more of a ‘marriage plot’.

Sarah Thornhill is one of the daughters of William Thornhill, the main character of THE SECRET RIVER. You do not need to have read THE SECRET RIVER to read this book and it actually may work better as a crucial family secret is a secret if you haven’t read the previous book. The novel is told through Sarah, known as Dolly, and Grenville captures her voice amazingly. You can almost hear Dolly’s voice coming off the page. The time, place, harshness and beauty of colonial New South Wales is again evocatively captured. The heart of the story is a romance between Dolly and Jack Langland. We follow Dolly as her love for Jack blossoms but the Thornhills have built their life on a dark secret that not even Dolly knows and this secret will tear everything apart.

Like with Grenville’s two previous novels you are once again immersed in the historical world she has created. This is not meant to be a historically accurate work rather a thought-provoking story about the lies and half-truths Australia has been built on and the legacy it leaves on future generations.

What do you think about the cover?

3 thoughts on “Kate Grenville’s SARAH THORNHILL

  1. I went back to remind myself of the previous two covers and yes, this one is quite a departure isn’t it?

    I wonder if it’s a case of the publishers gambling that previous readers of The Secret River and The Lieutenant know and trust Grenville’s work and so are “rusted on”. Maybe they are hunting for a new readership with this one, so playing up the “outback romance” aspect to attract readers who didn’t come to the party previously?

    If it introduces more readers to Grenville then I guess the gamble will have paid off. If it loses the male readership along the way though, that would be sad.

    Could have been a good book to have done two covers for – like the grown up and kiddie covers that Harry Potter came in. I think if given a choice of a landscape cover and the back of woman’s head, I’d have gone for the landscape.


    1. I definitely think lose the back of the woman’s head. Two covers would have been a brilliant idea but you’ve got to balance the economics of that. Maybe the paperback will be different?


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