The Lieutenant is the latest book by Australian writer and Orange Prize winner Kate Grenville. The only other book of hers that I read, The Idea of Perfection, was not one of my favorites. I had read it a few years ago when I was involved in the Book Awards Challenge. And actually, when I suggested this book to my book club, I had totally forgotten about the other book!
The Lieutenant is a much different and far superior book. While it is fiction, it is based on the life of William Dawes, a lieutenant in the British Royal Marines who traveled to Sydney with the First Fleet of British prisoners. The protagonist of The Lieutenant is Daniel Rooke, who travels with the fleet as navigator and astronomer.
The settlement at Sydney is plagued by hunger, uncooperative inmates, and strained relationships with the aboriginal people. Rooke literally and figuratively removes himself from the settlement by positioning his hut and his astronomical and weather equipment on a hill far above Sydney harbor. He tries to learn the language of the aborigines and compile a dictionary.
Rooke soon becomes uncomfortable with the harsh way the Governor of the colony metes out justice, and with the British attitude towards the natives. As he learns the language and begins to understand the culture of the natives he realizes he can no longer be a loyal Marine.
I highly recommend this book. After reading it, I learned that is the second book in a trilogy so I’ll probably read the first. The third book is not yet completed, so that will have to wait.
Published in hardcover-Atlantic Monthly Press-2009
Softcover edition-Grove Press-2010