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The Lieutenant

The Lieutenant

3.9 9
by Kate Grenville

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A stunning follow-up to her Commonwealth Writers’ Prize-winning book, The Secret River, Grenville’s The Lieutenant is a gripping story about friendship, self-discovery, and the power of language set along the unspoiled shores of 1788 New South Wales. As a boy, Daniel Rooke was an outsider. Ridiculed in school and misunderstood by his


A stunning follow-up to her Commonwealth Writers’ Prize-winning book, The Secret River, Grenville’s The Lieutenant is a gripping story about friendship, self-discovery, and the power of language set along the unspoiled shores of 1788 New South Wales. As a boy, Daniel Rooke was an outsider. Ridiculed in school and misunderstood by his parents, Daniel could only hope that he would one day find his place in life. When he joins 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 nearby Aboriginal tribes, Daniel constructs an observatory to chart the stars and begin the 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 girl that will change the course of his life. The Lieutenant is a remarkable story about the poignancy of a friendship that defies linguistic and cultural barriers, and shows one man that he is capable of exceptional courage.

Editorial Reviews

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.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Grenville (The Secret River) delivers another vivid novel about the British colonization of Australia, this one a delightful fictionalization of the life of William Dawes, a soldier-scholar who sailed from England in 1788 with the first fleet to transport British prisoners to New South Wales. Dawes's stand-in is Daniel Rooke, a loner with a passion for mathematics and astronomy who makes a living as a marine. He joins the expedition with the hope of tracking a comet that will not be visible from Great Britain, building a makeshift hut and observatory separate from the settlement (largely so he can avoid his prison guard duties). Although food is insufficient and the marines are outnumbered by the convicts, there is little unrest, but while Daniel shifts his ambitions from identifying previously unnamed stars to discovering a language and culture unknown in England, tensions escalate between the newcomers and the Aborigines, forcing Daniel to choose between duty to his king and loyalty to a land and people he has come to love. Grenville's storytelling shines: the backdrop is lush and Daniel is a wonderful creation—a conflicted, curious and endearing eccentric. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Intellectually gifted but socially awkward, Portsmouth schoolboy Daniel Rooke routinely isolates himself from his peers to explore the mechanisms of logic, arithmetic, and Greek. When a mentor recognizes his potential and introduces him to the study of astronomy, Rooke believes that he has found his place and purpose in life. He volunteers for the marines and signs on as an astronomer with the First Fleet sailing to New South Wales in 1788. After his astronomical studies falter in Australia, Rooke becomes friendly with a group of Aboriginals, attempting to learn and transcribe their language. The bond he forms with a girl named Tagaran—who reminds him of his younger sister—takes Rooke by surprise and leads to an unexpected turning point in his life. VERDICT Rooke is a genuine, sensitive protagonist, and this new novel offers a more intimate and optimistic perspective of Australian history than Grenville's award-winning epic, The Secret River. 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. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/09.]—Kelsy Peterson, Johnson County Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS
Kirkus Reviews
Veteran Australian author Grenville (The Secret River, 2006, etc.) poignantly depicts a man of science forced into a world shaped by action. Growing up in Portsmouth, England, Daniel Rooke is scholarly and bookish, a scientific and mathematical prodigy with minimal social skills and little interest in anything nearer to him than the stars he rapturously observes. Reaching adulthood, Daniel joins His Majesty's Marines as a commissioned officer and navigator, sailing first on a warship patrolling the colonies during the American Revolution. In 1788 he signs on in a similar capacity aboard Sirius, flagship of a fleet bound for Australia to build a penal colony. Grenville subsequently records Daniel's enthralled introduction to this new land's untamed beauty, his hopeful creation of a makeshift observatory, where he can study the mysteries of the southern skies, and his disillusioning perception of his comrade's disdainful indifference to the gentle culture of the local aborigines. An officially ordered act of aggression challenges the integrity of this paradise, destroying Daniel's utopian contentment and his chaste relationship with a beautiful native girl, Tagaran, of whom he and we learn frustratingly little. (Her age and the nature of her feelings for the compassionate Englishman would have been helpful, for starters.) Written with exemplary simplicity and festooned with gorgeous images, the narrative focuses on the meditative inner life of its main character; too many other possibilities are unexplored, too many issues unresolved. Nevertheless, readers' hearts will go out to the grieving Daniel. An involving, affecting novel that should have been even better.
From the Publisher

“Grenville’s portrait of the obtuse yet engaging Rooke and her descriptions of this strange territory are marvelously evocative. . . . The fragility of the encounters [between Rooke and Tagaran] further heightens the suspense that Grenville so deftly sustains. Tragedy looms, of course, just outside the delicate frame of this elegiac novel, but Grenville allows us to marvel at ‘one universe in the act of encountering another’ even as we dread the inevitable result.”—Anna Mundow, The Boston Globe

“[A] richly imagined portrait of a deeply introspective, and quite remarkable, man.”—Alison McCulloch, The New York Times Book Review

“Exquisite . . . Grenville has created a magnificent work of fiction that encompasses the excitement of adventure, the thrill of discovery, the mysteries of the unknown, the ambiguity of relationships and the ethical and moral dilemma of choosing between duty to country or to mankind.”—Corinna Lothar, The Washington Times

“A prescriptive plea for cultural understanding [that] draws revelatory connections between emotional empathy and scientific discovery. . . . The crisp prose of The Lieutenant [often] approaches poetry . . . [and] 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.”—Bill Marx, Los Angeles Times

"What differentiates The Lieutenant from The Secret River is a surprising and refreshing theme of belonging and connectivity. Present are Grenville's consistent abilities to understand and re-birth history into a contextual narrative, but here those skills coalesce into an overarching message: 'Everything is part of every other thing, now and forever.' . . . Understanding and meaning [can be] found far from anything we could have imagined. The Lieutenant is a great read that reminds us the finding is possible."--Michelle AuBuchon, Brooklyn Rail

“Vivid . . . Delightful . . . Grenville’s storytelling shines: the backdrop is lush and Daniel is a wonderful creation—a conflicted, curious and endearing eccentric.”—Publishers Weekly

“Grenville displays a graceful touch with the characters and the history that so clearly move her, and her writing sparkles with life. Highly recommended.”—Library Journal (starred review)

“Grenville follows The Secret River with another lyrical and literary exploration of the history of Australia. . . . Loosely based on historical facts, this novel of discovery is about much more than exploring new lands. It is about one man’s personal voyage into the heart of a people.”—Mary Ellen Quinn, Booklist

“I’m a shamefully late, and enraptured, discoverer of Kate Grenville, whose The Lieutenant is a supremely good novel. . . . [It] has excited me more than any novel I’ve read since those of W. G. Sebald.” —Diana Athill, author of Somewhere Toward the End

“[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.” —Kerryn Goldsworthy, The Age (Australia)

“[The Lieutenant] has a potency and beauty that lingers in both the heart and mind’s eye. . . . Rooke and Tagaran are superbly written, and Grenville conveys not only the sense of true kinship that grows between them, but also the euphoria of connection and understanding between two people from different universes. [The Lieutenant] visits a part of Australian black-white history and finds a true heart of goodness there.” —Lucy Clark, The Sunday Telegraph (Australia)

“Grenville inhabits characters with a rare completeness . . . and writes with a poet’s sense of rhythm and imagery. . . . [She] explores the natural rifts that arise between settlers and native people with a deep understanding of the ambiguities inherent in such conflicts . . . [and] occupies the mind of Rooke with a kind of vivid insistence, and his isolation—and moral dilemmas—become ours.” —Jay Parini, The Guardian (UK)

“Masterful . . . Grenville’s easy writing leads us gently toward the inevitable cultural collision, building subtle tension as the playing field becomes more and more uneven. And woven throughout this fictionalized history is a moving and compassionate glimpse into the proud intelligence of the Aboriginal tribes in that moment of hesitation before good intentions are swept aside in the name of queen and country.”—Judith Meyrick, The Chronicle Herald

“Grenville has fashioned an original, inviting tale that makes her country’s colonial history as fresh as it is to her wide-eyed protagonist in 1788. . . . Grenville’s prose is clear and clean . . . [with] an innocence to the voice that is almost reminiscent of a fairytale and its purposeful naivety well suits the point of view of a curious but inexperienced hero. . . . Basing her tale on real events and a real historical character, Grenville has brought imagination and compassion to the source of so much of Australia’s retroactive hand-wringing. What distinguishes her portrayal of the Aboriginal culture is that for once appreciation, sympathy, and admiration get the better of impotent guilt.”—Lionel Shriver, The Telegraph (UK)

“A particular kind of stillness marks out Grenville’s characters as uniquely hers. . . . The relationship between the awkward soldier, in his red coat and brass buttons, and the young naked girl, is a beautifully uplifting piece of fiction. Nimbly avoiding categorizations of filial, fraternal or sexual love, their sharing of language and then understanding simply describes the love that one human being finally finds for another. . . . 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.'”—Katy Guest, The Independent (UK)

“The encounters between Rooke and the Gadigal, especially a young girl called Tagaran, are wonderfully shimmering and authentic…gripping, I couldn't put it down.”—Weekend Herald (New Zealand)

“An extraordinary adventure into the nature of language, culture and human communication. It is also a thrilling alternative history of modern Australia’s beginnings. . . . Grenville’s great victory in this book is to show us that language is so much more than vocabulary or even grammar and syntax . . . Grenville’s writing is so clear as to be transparent…All in all, an epiphanous book, her best, I think.”—Listener

“An intelligent, spare, always engrossing imagining of first contact, in which the fictionalization of history allows a comment about current postcolonial race relationships which escapes the didacticism of special pleading.”—Patrick Denman Flanery, Times Literary Supplement

“In lucid prose and perfectly measured strides, Grenville lays down her riveting tale.”—Stephanie Cross, The Daily Mail

“Genuinely affecting, [The Lieutenant] is another capable tranche of character-based, historical fiction and a worthy foil to its predecessor.”—Melissa McClements, Financial Times

“Rooke and Tagaran . . . develop together the first stumbling vocabulary and grammar of an indigenous Australian language for English speakers. . . . This exploration project, undertaken marvelously as a language adventure, is an Australian fiction delight. . . . Grenville hasn’t written a historical novel. She has written astutely about dark hearts today.”—Nigel Krauth, Australian

“[Grenville’s] reflections on the relationship of language to life, perspective to meaning, literature to truth all sprout from the seeds of historical record and twine enticingly throughout the novel.”—Katharine England, Adelaide Advertiser

“[With The Lieutenant] Grenville achieves what few Australian writers have accomplished: a convincing paean to Australia’s seductiveness. . . . Character is one of [Grenville’s] strong suits, and this vision of a budding relationship between the sparkling Aboriginal girl and the sensitive young man of science is a triumph of imaginative history. Grenville’s book has a point of view, to be sure, but it also has a sense of humor--and its power, like that of all great novels, derives from the author's deep and abiding affection for all concerned.”—Christina Thompson, The Monthly (AU)

”From one of [Australia’s] most accomplished novelists, [The Lieutenant] a universal story of the great and joyous gravity of decent human interaction, of finding then unlocking your soul. It is also a platonic love story that is profoundly moving. . . . This is a book about the power of language—what we say and don't say.”—Matthew Condon, Courier-Mail (AU)

“A compelling and beautifully written book—everything readers have come to expect from Kate Grenville.”—South Coast Register (AU)

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Renouf Publishing Company, Ltd
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The Lieutenant 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
PrairieSpy More than 1 year ago
Read Kate Grenville if you haven't and like literary tales based on real lives. I have loved each of her books. Daniel Rooke in this novel is a quietly introspective man who is transformed when he discovers from the young aboriginal girl Tagaran that learning one's language is much, much more than the words.
aimee1 More than 1 year ago
Ahhhh! Grenville is one of those authors who can captivate anyone. Whether looking for a love story, historical fiction, drama, etc., you will not be disappointed with "The Lieutenant". This book is not for Danielle Steele, Dan Brown or James Patterson fans; there is too much substance and learning for the likes of those readers (MEOW:)!) "The Lieutenant" is a literary treat; I learned a great deal about the aboriginal culture, which is quite intense. LOVED IT!
Annabelle_Colton More than 1 year ago
Kate Grenville is a master at composing the textures of a place and the strictures of an era. We are simply compelled as readers to empathize with the characters lifted from the pages of history. We find ourselves viewing along the sight lines of a young bookish student of astronomy. Soon enough, we find ourselves standing with him between the stilled moonlit waters of the South Pacific and the foreshore of England's farthest outpost, a land settled for generations, tide upon tide, and are not shocked by his choice nor the unraveling thereby.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There isn't a lot of action in this novel, but there is some and even some gore. No, not perpetrated by evil outlaws, but by the keepers of law, His Majesty's Navy, in 1788 New South Wales-- and other white intruders, but not Lieutenant Daniel Rooke. Based on the achievements of William Dawes, an astronomer in the British Navy, Kate Grenville has written a powerful account of a man's inner growth and understanding of humanity and the slipperiness of language. She presents portions of what I presume are the real Dawes's linguistic analyses of the natives' language. If, indeed, these are Dawes's words, he was unknowingly, the first anthropological linguist. What is amazing is that he recognized the complexity of the language of technologically backward cultures as well as the complexity of their cultures themselves. Today we know the tragedies of native peoples because of the work of early 20th century anthropological linguists who showed these peoples were as human as we in every way except in technology. Europeans in the 16th to 20th century thought they were of a lower order of beings. Rather than study them, they brutalized them. This is the story of an exceptionu
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