Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Lieutenant --- Kate Grenville

While Kate Grenville is an Australian author she is well respected on the international scene, with her book The Secret River, which I reviewed recently, being short listed for the Man Booker Prize. She has a Master's degree and a Doctorate in Creative Writing and her books on the writing process are used widely as textbooks in many writing courses. In addition two of her books have been made into movies.

She is also known for her meticulous research and that is certainly obvious in her latest novel The Lieutenant, which like The Secret River is based on the life of a man who actually existed.

The story chronicles the story of the fictional Daniel Rooke who as a child is an outsider but gifted at Mathematics and later in astronomy. Trained as a marine at the Portsmouth Naval Academy he joins the First Fleet as its official astronomer on its voyage to establish the first colony in Australia.

On arrival he establishes himself apart from the fledgling colony where he meticulously records various physical data besides his astronomical readings, like rainfall for example and his solitude from the others makes him a perfect person to interact with a group of aborigines who on the whole tried to avoid the first settlers.

In particular he befriends a young adolescent girl in the group and through their interactions he begins a study of their language and records his work in notebooks which he names a dictionary of this native language. Finally he believes he has found his calling and he envisages staying on in New South Wales to continue this work when his current tour of duty is completed.

Of course eventually there is trouble between the aborigines and the settlers and Rooke as a marine becomes caught up in a punitive expedition against the people who have become his friends and what evolves from this event leads his life in a totally different direction.

In this book Kate explores the dilemma faced by these soldiers and marines who were forced to confront the rights and wrongs of their orders from the Governor in dealing with the aboriginal population. It is a beautifully written book and the story is indeed powerful with the tension building increasingly as the story unfolds.

I highly recommend this book, not only for its engaging story of the friendship between the lieutenant and the young girl and its relating of the trials of those who went first to settle in New South Wales, but for its thought provoking questions for the reader.


Moggs Tigerpaw said...

Sounds like you enjoyed it. I fear the ending might not be happy tho.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

It sounds very interesting.