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Book DetailsISBN: 9781921656767
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Book Review: Lieutenant by Kate Grenville - Reviewed by CloggieA (11 May 2011)
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.
Kate Grenville is one of Australia's finest writers. She won the Orange Prize in 2001 for The Idea of Perfection. The Secret River, published in more than twenty countries, was awarded the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, and was shortlisted for both the Miles Franklin Literary Award and the Man Booker Prize. The Lieutenant was shortlisted for the New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australian Premiers' Awards.
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