As a boy, Daniel Rooke was always an outsider. Ridiculed in school and misunderstood by his parents, Daniel could only hope, against all the evidence, that he would one day find his place in life. When he enters the marines and travels to Australia as a lieutenant on the First Fleet, Daniel finally sees his chance for a new beginning.
As his countrymen struggle to control their cargo of convicts and communicate with those who already inhabit the land, Daniel immediately constructs an observatory to chart the stars and begin the scientific work he prays will make him famous. But the place where they have landed will prove far more revelatory than the night sky. Out on his isolated point, Daniel comes to intimately know the local Aborigines, and forges a remarkable connection with one young girl, Tagaran, that will forever change the course of his life. As the strained coexistence between the Englishmen and the native tribes collapses into violence, Daniel is forced to decide between dedication to his work, allegiance to his country, and his protective devotion to Tagaran and her people.
Inspired by the notebooks of astronomer William Dawes, The Lieutenant is a remarkable story about the poignancy and emotional power of a friendship that defies linguistic and cultural barriers, and shows one ordinary man that he is capable of exceptional courage.
The Lieutenant revisits the same period Grenville wrote about in The Secret River (2005), the first years of the Port Jackson penal colony, but this is a more compact, leaner work. Although based on the diaries of William Dawes this is not your typical historical fiction - Grenville is as much, if not more, focused on observing the mind of her protagonist than she is in exploring the vista he beholds. As we inhabit his mind, his moral dilemmas become ours, and we share his isolation. Written with a poet's sensibility, this is an adventure into the nature of language and culture and of how people can connect across seemingly impenetrable barriers. (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).
New York Times - Alison McCulloch The Lieutenant” is less a story of colonial struggle and encounter than “The Secret River,” and more the richly imagined portrait of a deeply introspective, and quite remarkable, man.
Los Angeles Times - Bill Marx The Lieutenant compels as a historical novel exploring the sins of Australia's colonial past, an admirable testament to the necessity that the West learn to appreciate rather than condemn the Other. But Grenville's most thrilling achievement is to filter that lesson in social acceptance through the computational consciousness of a man whose head is in the stars.
Grenville's storytelling shines: the backdrop is lush and Daniel is a wonderful creation—a conflicted, curious and endearing eccentric.
... The narrative focuses on the meditative inner life of its main character; too many other possibilities are unexplored ... An involving, affecting novel that should have been even better.
Starred Review. Grenville displays a graceful touch with the characters and the history that so clearly move her, and her writing sparkles with life. Highly recommended for readers of literary fiction.
The Guardian - Jay Parini
Although based on the diaries of William Dawes, an English officer who travelled with a fleet bringing the first convicts to Australia in 1888, The Lieutenant should not be mistaken for history, as Grenville warns us in a detailed author's note. She has repossessed history here, transmogrifying what she has found. She occupies the mind of Rooke with a kind of vivid insistence, and his isolation - and moral dilemmas - become ours.
The Independent - Katy Guest
Between the words and among them, this is a profoundly uplifting novel – one that leaves you understanding Rooke's premise: that "Truth [needs] hundreds of words, or none."
The Telegraph (UK)
Basing her tale on real events and a real historical character, Kate Grenville has brought imagination and compassion to the source of so much of Australia’s retroactive hand-wringing. What distinguishes her portrayal of Aboriginal culture is that for once appreciation, sympathy and admiration get the better of impotent guilt.
Sydney Morning Herald - Andrew Rimmer
When Rooke's and Tagaran's explorations of language flower into a relationship - half playful, half amorous - Grenville starts taking considerable risks. This kind of material bristles with opportunities for mawkishness. The coolness of Grenville's prose ensures, however, that matters do not get out of hand. This section of the novel is tender and touching and greatly enhanced by understatement....The other sections of The Lieutenant are, perhaps, a shade more predictable. But Grenville reveals throughout a highly professional writer's sureness of touch. ... I found much to enjoy and to admire in this relatively brief novel.
The Age (Australia)
[The Lieutenant] glows with life: imaginative in its re-creations, respectful of what cannot be imagined, and thoughtful in its interrogation of the past. ... Grenville's most intellectually sophisticated novel to date.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Phil Cruttwell Could do better The ingredients were here for a truly great novel. And I enjoyed the story and found myself caring about the main characters and the dilemma that faced them. But it felt to me that the writer was in a hurry...in fact it felt like the script for a... Read More
Rated of 5
by Cloggie Downunder A moving Aussie tale Kate Grenville’s latest novel, “The Lieutenant” is a beautifully crafted work. The Lieutenant in question, Daniel Rooke, is based on William Dawes, a soldier in His Majesty’s Marine Force on the First Fleet which arrived in Sydney Cove in 1788.... Read More
Rated of 5
by Jean Good, but I wanted more! This book was my introduction to the writings of Kate Grenville, and I must say I am delighted to have finally made her acquaintance and plan to read more of her work. I thoroughly enjoyed the lush, lyrical power of her descriptive prose. However,... Read More
Rated of 5
by Diane The Lieutenant Daniel Rooke was a lonely child, misunderstood by not only other children, but by his parents as well. He found comfort in books and astronomy. As an adult, he prefers solitude yet surprisingly he is able to form strong relationships with his... Read More
Rated of 5
by Susan The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville This book is a great read. Kate Grenville writes with a prose of words that become a visual and mental picture. The historical background adds a new dimension to a story you may think you know. Questions of culture and morality left me thinking... Read More
Rated of 5
by Susan The Lieutenant A quiet, thought-provoking account of a socially inept loner (based on the actual lieutenant William Dawes), The Lieutenant explores a host of questions: what is friendship; to whom should one be loyal; are the values one is brought up with... Read More
The Australian Penal Colonies You might wonder why Britain would choose to send ships filled with convicts
and their jailors to, quite literally, the other side of the world. The
answer is simple economics.
In the 1780s, the British population was increasing fast, as were the effects of
the Industrial Revolution which led to the displacement of a great many people who, without land, rights or jobs, were reduced to stealing.
Meanwhile, Britain, having lost the American Colonies, was on the lookout for
new land to colonize. The east coast of Australia, charted by The
Endeavor in 1770, looked like it had potential. So it was decided
that instead of using slaves, the infrastructure of the new colony would be
built with convict labor - a free and often skilled work force that also
went some way to solving the British convict problem.
The government "Better Farming Train" brings advice to the small towns of Australia. The train is staffed by irresistibly eccentric
agricultural and domestic experts; and when two of the train's experts fall in love, in an atmosphere of heady scientific idealism they settle in the impoverished Mallee farmland with the ambition of...
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