Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville

The Lieutenant focuses on the life of Lieutenant Daniel Rooke. As a young boy, he was obsessed with prime numbers and had an insatiable curiosity for science. Eventually he entered His Majesty's service, became an astronomer and, after some time, set sail to New South Wales with a ship of full of convicts. Once there, he befriended an Aboriginal child and through her got to know the Aboriginal people and their culture.

This was such a good book. It was based on real events (which are explained in the author's note at the end), but remains a work of fiction. I loved it from the very beginning. The story was accessible, interesting, heart-warming and tender. I was particularly fond of Rooke's work in astronomy and linguistics. His passion for these subjects were so thrilling, it was hard for me not to get caught up in it, too. When I got close to the end of the book, I had to put it down for and leave it for a few days. I generally have to do that when a book gets too emotional. No use me being a basket case for the rest of the day or not being able to sleep. Also, I really didn't want this book to end, so the little break prolonged it for me.

This book was written entirely from Rooke's point of view. While that was totally appropriate for this story, I couldn't help but wonder how the Aboriginal's felt about this "invasion". I would loved to have heard parts of this story told from their point of view.

While Rooke went to extraordinary efforts to learn the language, he still encountered some difficulties. When it says on page 149*: "He could hear it, but his mouth did not know how to make it.", I understood perfectly. I'm terribly inept at learning new languages. Part of the problem is that I have trouble replicating the sound that I hear.

As I said above, I was particularly interested in Rooke's astronomy work as well as his approach to learning the Aboriginal language. Because of this, two of my favourite quotes deal with those subjects. From pages 291* and 152* respectively.
The exquisite instruments of astronomy could add new stars to the sum of the world's knowledge, but it took a soul to wonder at the beauty of those already discovered.
But language was more than a list of words, more than a collection of fragments all jumbled together like a box of nuts and bolts. Language was a machine. To make it work, each part had to be understood in relation to all the other parts.

The author's note at the back explains the real events on which this book is based. Grenville notes, "This is a novel; it should not be mistaken for history". It's evident that a tremendous amount of research went into writing this book. I appreciate that a great deal.

New word alert: promontory = cape, headland, peninsula or outcrop.
"The forest-covered promontories seethed under gusts of wind that darkened the water to gunmetal grey." (page 219)*.

Highly recommended. I'd gladly read another book by Kate Grenville. Perhaps I'll look for a copy of The Secret River. It's won many awards and looks terrific.

Want to read another review? Here's Heather's over at Books and Quilts.

For more information about this book, please visit the HarperCollins Canada website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at HarperCollins Canada for this review copy.

The Lieutenant: A Novel by Kate Grenville, HarperCollins, ©2008. ISBN 9781554684328 (Uncorrected Proof), 302p.

*Please note: This book is an uncorrected proof edition. These quotes may or may not appear in the editions available to the general public. Also, the page numbers may not match other editions.

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