Lieutenant (Grenville)

The Lieutenant  (Thornhill Trilogy 2)
Kate Grenville, 2008
Canongate U.S.
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780802145031

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 always an outsider. Ridiculed in school and misunderstood by his parents, Daniel could only hope, against all the evidence, that he would one day find his place in life. When he enters 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 those who already inhabit the land, Daniel immediately constructs an observatory to chart the stars and begin the scientific 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 young girl, Tagaran, that will forever change the course of his life. As the strained coexistence between the Englishmen and the native tribes collapses into violence, Daniel is forced to decide between dedication to his work, allegiance to his country, and his protective devotion to Tagaran and her people.

Inspired by the notebooks of astronomer William Dawes, The Lieutenant is a remarkable story about the poignancy and emotional power of a friendship that defies linguistic and cultural barriers, and shows one ordinary man that he is capable of exceptional courage. (From the publisher.)

The other two books in the Thornhill Trilogy are  (1) The Secret River ... and (3) Sarah Thornhill

Author Bio
Birth—October 14, 1950
Where—Sydney, Australia
Education—B.A. University of Sydney; M.A. University of   
Awards—Vogel Award (Australia); Orange Prize;
   Commonwealth Writers Prize, Short-listed, Booker Prize
Currently—lives in Sydney, Australia

Kate Grenville was born in Sydney, Australia. After completing an Arts degree at Sydney University she worked in the film industry (mainly as an editor) before living in the UK and Europe for several years and starting to write.

In 1980 she went to the USA and completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Colorado, where her teachers included Ron Sukenick, Robert Steiner and Steve Katz.

On her return to Australia in 1983 she worked at the Subtitling Unit for SBS Television. In 1984 her first book, a collection of stories — Bearded Ladies — was published.

Since then she's published six novels and four books about the writing process (one co-written with Sue Woolfe).

The Secret River (2005) has won many prizes, including the Commonwealth Prize for Literature and the Christina Stead Prize, and has been an international best-seller. (It also formed the basis for a Doctorate of Creative Arts from University of Technology, Sydney). The Idea of Perfection (2000) won the Orange Prize.

Her other works of fiction have been published to acclaim in Australia and overseas and have won state and national awards. Much-loved novels such as Lilian's Story (1985), Dark Places (1995), and Joan Makes History (1988) have become classics, admired by critics and general readers alike.

Lilian's Story was filmed starring Ruth Cracknell, Toni Collette and Barry Otto. Dream House was filmed under the title Traps, starring Jacqueline MacKenzie.

Kate Grenville's novels have been widely published in translation, and her books about the writing process are used in many writing courses in schools and universities.

She lives in Sydney with her family. (From the author's website.)

Book Reviews
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.
Publishers Weekly

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. —Kelsy Peterson, Johnson County Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS
Library Journal

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.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for The Lieutenant:

1. Start by reading Kate Grenville's discussion of her research into the historical figure of Richard Dawes, on whom her character Daniel is based. You might then consider how her novel adheres to...or departs from the historical record.

2. Talk about the type of conditions faced by prisoners and military alike in 18th century Australia.

3. What personal traits might have made Daniel sensitive to and appreciative of a people and culture so vastly different from his own? In other words, why would a young man intent on the science of astronomy be drawn to the Aborigines and desirous of learning their language?

4. Describe Tagaran and her relationship with Daniel. What draws the two of them into their friendship...and how does it alter Daniel's life? What insights or revelations are gained by Daniel? Consider the power of friendship and its ability to overcome barriers of language and culture. How does that happen?

5. Discuss the tensions — and their cause — that arise between the Aborigines and the English. Was a clash inevitable?

6. Why does Daniel risk insubordination and punishment when he refuses to follow orders?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution.)

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