Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville - 2008

My great thanks to Max u for The Amazon Gift Card that allowed me to read Kate Grenville’s marvellous trilogy, set in the Sidney, Australia area in the Convict Era.

 The Secret River is about a convict and his wife who rose from abject near slavery to affluence while enduring great hardship.  Sarah Thornhill takes us twenty years ahead, focusing on the youngest daughter born in Australia and raised in comfort.  There is a rich vein of material for those interested in Australian colonial history, with a wonderful treatment of the relationship of the colonists to the  indigenous inhabitants.

The Lieutenant has no direct plot ties to the other two books in the trilogy.  Based on a real person, William Dawes. The novel tells the story of a young Englishman who, in 1788,ships out in a fleet of eleven vessels taking a first load of convicts to New South Wales.  Made a Lieutenant his job is to be the astronomer for the fleet and charged with studying the stars from the Southern Hemisphere.  He is an socially awkward young man, more interested in mathematics and the stars than his fellow travellers. His early years are very interestingly depicted.

We learn a lot about life in the colony.  Food is a big problem at first.  The  indigenous dwellers seem like little more than children, though potentially dangerous ones, to most of the English.  The heart of the story is the relationship, purely platonic of the astronomer to a young indigenous girl.  He begins  to learn her language and teach her English.  His fellow colonists see the natives as almost subhuman while the Lieutenant discovers a language as subtle and powerful as that of “Homer and Sophocles.” (He knew five languages including Greek and Latin.). He comes to see they employ concepts beyond those of the basically uneducated English in the colony. He begins to keep notebooks in which he records his findings about the language.  He slowly develops a friendship with the young woman.  His fellow officers scoff when he denies a sexual element in the relationship.  

There are a number of minor characters including a writer, the governor, other officers, indigenous Australians, memories of his family back in England. The girl reminds him of his young sister.  

The close of the novel, a wonderfully done close, took me totally by surprise.

All these books will be loved by anyone into quality historical fiction, especially anyone interested in Australian history.


Lisbeth said...

Sounds very interesting. I love historical fiction, especially if real life characters are included. Will have to go on my to read list.

Buried In Print said...

Oh! I'm looking forward to discovering what you mean about the ending...