The Secret River by Kate Grenville
With which character did you feel more empathy or sympathy: William or Sal?
Did that feeling change during the course of the story?
I thought the author was even-handed in her portrayal of the strengths and weaknesses of both William and Sal. Each had a certain measure of selfishness but also moments of compromise (how else can a marriage be sustained?). Sal's resilience and inventiveness in dealing with the poverty of her life as a young married woman in England, the squalor of their initial accommodations in Sydney and starting life on the river were remarkable. I kept trying to see myself in the same situations. For Sal's sake I was insulted by William's continued surprise at his wife's farsightedness.
Both William and Sal were changed by their experience in this foreign land. One of the final incidents (p. 331) is quite telling. Sal reminds William "I thought you was wonderful when I was a little thing...Because you spit such a long way!" And he replies: "I ain't lost the art, Sal,...Only in this dry place a man needs all his spit for himself." And that, to me, sums up William: it became all about himself. And as usually happens, that does not make for a truly happy life.
This is the second in a series of 4 blogs in this Roundtable. You can find the others on Nov. 2, Nov 4 and Nov. 5.