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.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Miley Cyrus' homeless MTV VMAs date, Jesse Helt, is wanted by the police
- 2 Arizona shooting: Gun instructor accidentally killed by nine-year-old girl with Uzi
- 3 Paul Scholes: Manchester City were so good against Liverpool I felt like turning the television off
- 4 Notting Hill Carnival: Woman shares selfie after being ‘punched in face for telling man to stop groping her’
- 5 Pamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals: 'Mice had holes drilled into their skulls'
Great British Bake Off, episode 4, review: Heat gets turned up as Iain goes into meltdown
Doctor Who kiss sparks Ofcom complaints over 'weird lesbian-lizard perv trip'
Nicki Minaj suffers wardrobe malfunction during MTV VMAs performance with Ariana Grande and Jessie J
Emmys 2014: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and Steven Moffat win big awards for Sherlock
Homer Simpson takes the ALS ice bucket challenge because of course he does
Exclusive: We share blame for creating 'jihad generation', says Muslim strategist
Robin Williams Emmys tribute led by Billy Crystal criticised for including 'racist' joke about Muslim woman
The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards
Scottish independence TV debate: Pumped-up Alex Salmond bounces back in bruising second round against Alistair Darling
Do you realise just how foolish the UK looks?
Arizona shooting: Gun instructor accidentally killed by nine-year-old girl with Uzi
- < Previous
- Next >