Review: THE LIEUTENANT by Kate Grenville

I’ve had The Secret River, another book by this author, on my TBR pile for awhile. The plot of that one attracted me and so I was excited to get a hold of this one at Book Expo America last May.

I love the cover of The Lieutenant; it depicts a beautiful blue celestial map and it gives me a sense of endless possibilities and excitement. The connection of the map to the book is that the protagonist, Daniel Rooke, is an astronomer who, in his majesty’s service in 1786, travels to New South Wales as the navigator and all-around observer of that land’s fauna, flora and people. As a mathematician and linguist, Daniel is more than capable of discerning new routes and paths to take and helping to ‘parlay’ with natives. Despite his competency to navigate however, he is not as adept in social situations and finds them awkward. It is his wish to establish a separate location from the main camp on New South Wales to continue astronomical studies and view the trail of Haley’s comet in silence and isolation. He is happiest there. It doesn’t take too long before he figures out the correct method of communicating with the natives who visit his camp and it is with them and not his own people with whom he feels most comfortable.

This is a novel but it is based on the very real activity of a person who lived through the same situations as the author describes. There is an author’s note at the back of the book (also available on her website) which explains the differences between the real historical person William Dawes and her character. Having not heard of this person before I found the story to be quite fascinating. I also enjoy historical novels so that for me was another plus in its favour. I liked the interpretation the author gave to real life events and the soul-searching and self-awareness she gave her character, knowing what he did with his life subsequent to NSW. But I thought that at a little over 300 pages, and with some of those devoted to Daniel’s early life before NSW, that the story could have been filled out a bit more. It detailed the character’s attempts to learn the language and his interaction with the natives and other soldiers, but I felt a bit more could have been added to fill out some gaps in time and give the story more depth. Despite that it was an enjoyable book. Anyone who enjoys historical adventures will surely like this novel.


Baba on August 17, 2009 at 5:29 PM said...

Really enjoy your blog and I had to write to let you know that until recently I had not even heard of Kate Grenville. (Which I am totally embarrassed to admit.) I recently listened to a radio interview she did with the BBC World Service Book Club (she was talking about "The Secret River")and found her to be interesting. I have added her to my wishlist of authors whose books I have to read. As if I needed my TBR pile to get any biger! Ebjoy the blog~ keep writing!

Literary Feline on August 17, 2009 at 5:35 PM said...

The cover for this one is gorgeous, I agree. It would be enough to get me to take a closer look at this book. From your description of the book, it sounds like it's worth reading as well, even with the flaw you mention. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

bermudaonion on August 17, 2009 at 7:12 PM said...

The story and the period in history sound fascinating. It definitely sounds worth reading to me.

Staci on August 17, 2009 at 11:41 PM said...

this one does sound pretty interesting. I read Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, and found that extremely good. It's pretty amazing what these men did before computers and fancy navigation gadgets.

avisannschild on August 31, 2009 at 6:13 PM said...

I haven't read your review because this book is sitting on my shelf waiting to be read, but I'm looking forward to comparing our thoughts on this one. I read one of her other books (can't remember the title but it wasn't The Secret River -- The Idea of Perfection, maybe?) and I really loved it, so I have high hopes for this one.


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