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The Lieutenant

by Kate Grenville

The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2009, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2010, 320 pages

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Power Reviewer 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. Dawes accompanied the First Fleet as an astronomer, to record the predicted reappearance of a comet in late 1788/early 1789. The story is thus based on historical events: Grenville fills in the blanks of everyday life around these events in a way that makes the historical facts a pleasure to assimilate. Whilst waiting alone in his observatory for the comet to appear, the lieutenant interacts with the indigenous population, his intention being to make a study of the native language. This interaction with the natives, in general, and his friendship with a young girl, in particular, appears to be a pivotal point in Rooke’s life. Subsequent events prompt Rooke to re-evaluate his priorities and lead him to the conclusion that “…the service of humanity and the service of His Majesty were not congruent”.
Grenville’s skill is such that we cannot help but feel empathy with the young Rooke from the very first page. Her characters are realistic, although Silk is perhaps not what he first appears to be. The dialogue takes us very effectively back to the 18th century. Grenville conveys the feel of the place and the time with consummate ease.
This is a novel about language and communication, solitude and loneliness, duty and integrity. Grenville explores friendship, truth, a man’s place in the universe. And what is worth risking one’s career or even one’s life for. The end leaves a lump in the throat.
What a pleasure this novel was to read. Let us hope for more from Kate Grenville soon.
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 about this book long after I finished it. Book clubs will enjoy this as will readers who liked The Forgotten Garden or Olive Kitteridge.
Sally

The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville
A quiet, thought provoking book that was so well written and interesting. A story based loosely on a William Dawes. The Lieutenant is the story of a young man that never quite belonged as he was a genius and maybe autistic. I found him shy, naive, and innocent even after encountering war. After the war he ended on a ship taking prisoners to New South Wales. It is here that the real story takes place and Kate Grenville writes a clean and clear story of the behavior of humans.

This was a hard book to finish because I found myself lost in thought and not reading. A beautiful book.
Ruth Harris

The Lieutenant
Kate Grenville does an excellent job of writing in a 1800's Englishman's voice. Daniel Rooke and others travel from England to New South Wales. Daniel, a student of math, astronomy and languages, goes to study weather and the nighttime skies. Though an outsider in a strange land he finds himself feeling, for the first time in his life, as if he belongs. He befriends the natives and tries to learn their language, their ways. The story is based on historical records but doesn't read as such. Interesting story written well.
Marion

Aboriginals versus convicts
If you are interested in the Aboriginals and how the first penal colony was settled in New South Wales in the 1780’s, The Lieutenant is the book worth reading. Although it is fiction loosely based on a real person, the rich details of daily life, conflicts, and diversity of language drives the story leaving its readers to want more.
Jerry

The Lieutenant
Kate Grenville is a terrific writer who writes elegant, simple prose. Many sentences clearly describing the dilemmas Lieutenant Rooke, the main character, experienced were short and contained words that were less than eight letters. (If only Carl Jung could write like that).

I enjoyed the book - yet I was left with ambivalent feelings about the widespread colonization that has occurred throughout history. In how many countries were the lives of the indigenous people improved after they were colonized? I'll leave that discussion to book clubs.
Judy

Beautifully written; based on historical events
In the late 1700s, Daniel Rooke, a naive astronomer/scientist with his head and heart set squarely on the stars in the sky, sails as a lieutenant with the first fleet taking English prisoners to colonize New South Wales. Two things happen. A single terrible incident foreshadows for Rooke the brutal impact of a colonizing force on the native people. And Rooke's heart opens to an astonishing native girl who teaches him how deeply the heart can feel. The inevitable choices he must make change his life forever.

If you love this book as much as I did, you will also love the books of Andrea Barrett.
Maryanne

The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville
This book explores the huge themes of friendship, the conflict between cultures, and courage. As one man discovers himself he finds that he has it within him to follow his conscience no matter what the cost. All intertwined with the magic of language, mathematics, and astronomy. The prose of Kate Grenville is stunning, almost poetic at times, and very readable. This book should have strong appeal for book groups. I will be reading it again, as well as some of Kate Grenville's earlier books.
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