The Lieutenant, By Kate Grenville
Sunday 07 February 2010
Kate Grenville's latest novel, about a young 18th-century English astronomer who is among the first settlers and soldiers to arrive in New South Wales, is historical fiction elevated into the category of "literary fiction", not so much by its research as by its psychological truth. Historical writers know that their readers demand a certain level of information: we want to learn about times different from our own, and it's not so much recognition that we crave in our ancestors as a sense of their difference.
But how to create psychological realism in characters who lived before Darwin and Freud? How are 21st-century readers to understand them? Grenville poses this very question in her own novel. How, her hero Daniel Rooke wonders when he meets the Aboriginal peoples of this new land, are they to understand each others' worlds, when they have been so long separated not only by geography but by history; by inventions that he has and they don't; by language structures he imagines that they lack, and which we have developed with ever-increasing sophistication?
After witnessing the cruelty of the conquering soldiers (even their own men are whipped until flesh clogs the leather straps), Daniel decides that "you did not learn a language without entering into a relationship with the people who spoke it with you". In his own case, this relationship is his gentle love for a young girl, Tagaran, who teaches him her language just as he teaches her his. And through Daniel's handling of this relationship, we connect with him ourselves, and make that leap across the centuries, to understand a little better what it may have been like to arrive with a conquering force and quell an innocent people.
The Lieutenant is a lovely example of historical fiction at its best: complex, demanding, and always revealing.
TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success
tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Which country would be hardest to invade?
- 2 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 3 Royal baby girl born: Duchess of Cambridge's second child will be a princess thanks to Queen
- 4 Uploading pictures to find out how old you are gives Microsoft the right to post them wherever they want
- 5 Teen suffers embarrassing wardrobe malfunction in front of deputy PM
Daredevil, Netflix, TV review: Marvel wins first fight in bid for television domination with Charlie Cox's superhero vigilante
London art exhibition features portrait of Iraqi migrant shot dead in Iraq after being refused UK asylum
Grace Dent on TV: Peter Kay's Car Share made me genuinely LOL
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
Indonesia executions live: 'Hysterical' families heard prisoners being shot dead by firing squad
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
EU exit would hit UK economy much harder than neighbouring countries, study finds