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"The Lieutenant" by Kate Grenville

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Australian author Kate Grenville, in The Lieutenant, has fashioned a loose companion-piece to the powerful and award-winning The Secret River, and in the process has shown an impressive versatility: Not only can she paint convincingly on a large canvas, as in Secret River, can also do great justice with a smaller, more intimate narrative. The Lieutenant is marvelous.

Our laudable author imagines the events which change Lieutenant Daniel Rooke’s life. An officer in His Majesty King George III’s Marines, Rooke sails to New South Wales aboard the flagship of Britain’s first fleet to land and settle permanently. He travels with the reference and recommendation of the royal astronomer, and sees nothing but the grand vistas of new worlds and new opportunity. He chooses, however, to follow his own conscience at a moral crossroads, and it changes his life forever.

The Lieutenant is full of closely-observed thought processes and the internal dialogue of its hero, and we have absolutely no trouble believing it. Based on events in a real officer’s life, Ms. Grenville’s imagining is a triumph – realistic, understanding, compassionate, vivid. The pivotal events in the man’s life don’t need a long exposition, and don’t get any more than is absolutely necessary. This economical treatment accomplishes exactly what it needs to – this tale could very easily be over-told or under-told. This author hits it in the sweet spot.

This holds its place as a companion-piece to The Secret River because of the temporal and geographic proximity, but has not been set up as a prequel. I’m intrigued by its relationship to Secret River and quite looking forward to Sarah Thornhill, the third book in the trilogy. Take up The Lieutenant and travel with its hero, see his place in history, and feel his anguish as he searches his soul during a timeless conflict. Recommended very highly.
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