The Lieutenant

Kate Grenville (Author)
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As a boy in England, Daniel Rooke was always an outsider. Ridiculed in school and misunderstood by his parents, Daniel could only hope--against all the evidence--that he would one day find his calling. His affinity for and ability with numbers takes him away from home and narrow-minded school, winning him a place in the Naval Academy where he becomes obsessed with Euclid and Kepler, with their concepts and theories of the orderliness of the world where everything--including a misfit like himself--has a place and purpose.

When he fails to secure an observatory position with Astronomer Royal, Dr. Vickery, Daniel enrolls in the Marine forces and is assigned as a Second Lieutenant to the Resolution. His travels with the Marines expose Daniel to a world he'd thus far only read about in books. A journey to Antigua brings him face to face with slaves--real, flesh-and-blood human beings not unlike himself, perplexingly compared to objects and animals by his previous acquaintances in England. He loses his virginity in a bordello and any remaining sense of innocence soon follows suit when a battle with a French fleet turns deadly. Daniel watches as his friends and compatriots fall all around him, bloodied and mutilated, until a brutal blow to the head knocks him down as well, bringing him within 1/4 inch of losing his life.

The war ends and two year pass slowly by as Daniel lives at home once again where he makes a meager living at tutoring math and sciences. Stir crazy at his relative idleness and inadequacy, Daniel seizes on an opportunity to travel to the remote and unknown shores of New South Wales. The British have begun exporting the overflow of convicts to the faraway continent, and Dr. Vickery recommends the soldiers travel with an astronomer--he can help navigate the seas and the land, and document a comet that Vickery has predicted will once again appear within the next few months. Despite his age and inexperience, Daniel takes the position with the hopes that he will be able to erect his own observatory and examine the sky from an angle none of his colleagues have ever seen.

At first, his observatory is met with resistance from the leading officers. There are only 200 Marines to control 800 convicts--no men can be spared to help build Daniel's station. But they soon relent, and Daniel is allowed to begin his studies at a dark, secluded point far removed from the rest of the men at Sydney Cove, where Daniel sits with his rifle loaded, unaware of how close the aborigines tread.

When the supplies crew fails to arrive in Australia, food becomes startlingly scarce, forcing the soldiers to reach out to the elusive Aborigines who have met their previous attempts at introduction with indifference and distrust. Along with Silk, Daniel's old friend from the Resolution, Daniel volunteers to track down natives who might be willing to help them find a sustainable source of food. While the men--including a prisoner, Brugden, whose meant to hunt--trek through the rugged, untouched landscape, most find the country a barren wasteland, but Daniel sees a beauty that makes his convenient homeland seem inhospitable. He marvels at the undiscovered species of flora and fauna, at the clarity of the sea and the unfamiliar arrangement of the stars, and he finally--for the first time in his life--feels at peace with his surroundings.

Though the expedition brings no food back to the camp, the crew does stumble upon a stretch of fertile land where they might grow produce and build a second post. They also fail to return having made significant contact with the native tribes. In fact, as Brugden is out hunting one evening, he claims a clan of Aborigine men attempted to attack him. Without waiting to see if he left any injured or dead, the prisoner fired his rifle into the thick of them and ran back to the soldiers. Their failure makes the Governor uneasy and he soon orders that since no natives came forward of their own will, he will seize two of them, teach them English and hope to learn their language and customs in return. He calls upon Gardiner, another old acquaintance of Daniel's from his first expedition with the Marines, who follows his orders despite his conscience. With Silk's help, Gardiner captures two men, Boinbar and Warungin, who are frustratingly rebellious and escape within a matter of days, but not without leaving a small trace of their language behind. Silk asks Daniel if Gardiner ever told him how disgusted he was with their orders to capture the natives, if he ever spoke treasonously about the Governor. Startled by Silk's duplicity, Daniel lies and says that Gardiner never confided in him.

It will take a year-and-a-half before the Aborigines willingly approach the foreigners. As Daniel sits in his observatory one day, having long given up on Vickery's comet, which never graced the sky, and instead turning his energy toward mapping new unknown constellations, Warungin and his clan approach the door. Within moments, the communication gap is breached and names are exchanged. Daniel isn't a threat, and this knowledge propels the entire tribe into his living quarters to examine his belongings and dispel their fears. As the women and children pull on his clothes and play with his instruments, Daniel spots a striking young girl, observant and mature, who very much reminds him of his sister, Anne. Upon speaking to her it becomes quite evident that she is exceptionally smart, interpreting his sign language, body language, and tone with startling precision. He learns her name is Tagaran and he asks that she return to his post the next morning.

As Tagaran returns to Daniel day after day, a bond forms through language that will become the single most important, influential, and heartbreaking friendship that Daniel will ever know. Their interaction and discovery of language goes beyond simple vocabulary and grammar--it is the heart of talking, allowing them to find common ground and discover the true, unspoken name of things. Daniel begins recording their sessions, deciphering tenses and inflections so complex it's astonishing. He uncovers a language as intricate as Greek and much more sophisticated than his own.

Though Daniel makes strides with the Aborigines, his compatriots aren't as fortunate, and gaping cultural divides still plague what tenuous bonds have been made. When it becomes evident that Daniel's fluency in the native tongue is well beyond his countrymen's, Silk reveals that he intends to include a section on the native language in his narrative, which he means to have published. He wants Daniel's knowledge (for slim pay), and the assurance that Daniel doesn't plan to publish his own notebooks. Outraged, Daniel tries and fails to explain the significance of his dealings with Tagaran and her tribe--to him it isn't at all about money and it disgusts him to see how Silk aims to profit from these people who've already been so exploited by white men.

Daniel's loyalties are further tested when Tagaran and other girls are attacked by unseen Englishmen. When they run to him for help, he can merely offer his comfort, but not his action, refusing to help Tagaran learn to fire a gun and refusing to demand reparations from his fellow Marines. For the first time in his life, after the girls leave, Daniel is uncomfortable with his own company, once again unsure of where he belongs.

But when Brugden is murdered by Tagaran's neighboring tribe, Daniel can no longer walk down the middle. After Silk is ordered to round up six natives who will be made an example of for the killing of a white man, Silk tells the Governor that he will take Daniel with him, severing the last tie that's bound together their friendship. Silk promises that they won't be able to round up six Aborigine men, and that it was his belief in the mission's futility that made him choose Daniel to accompany him. Though Daniel cannot overcome his fear and blatantly refuse his orders, he does call Tagaran to his post where he warns her of the plan to capture men from the other tribe. He learns that they speared Brugden because they're angry at the white man's encroachment on their land and because they're afraid of their guns. Daniel urges Tagaran to run and caution the others, and to find safety herself. As the two part, Daniel tells her that he will be one of them men sent to hunt her people down. To his surprise, she doesn't get scared or angry. Despite their difficulty in finding common words, Daniel and this young girl found a language above letters, and she knows his true self better than anyone else ever could. Both understand that it's likely the last time they will ever see each other, but the moment must be brief if she's to save her people.

Nearly right after they leave to hunt down the Aborigines, Daniel and his party come across dozens fleeing by canoe into the sea. Silk realizes they're within range and orders the men to open fire. Daniel goes through the motions, but purposely aims far from the boats, into the calm waters and, mercifully, none of the others are able to strike a single man, woman, or child. Alarmed at how driven Silk seems, Daniel soon questions why Silk carries a hatchet and six cloth bags. The answer horrifies him: Silk reveals that the Governor ordered that if no men could be taken alive, that they capture six of them, cut off their heads, and bring them back to the camp--as an example, to deter further violent behavior and prove that the Englishmen won't tolerate such violent defiance. Immediately, Daniel leaves and heads back to the main camp where he walks up to the Governor and proclaims the stupidity and wickedness of his orders. Without hesitation, Daniel promises that if he's ever asked to carry out similar order again, he will refuse. It doesn't matter that no one was killed, it's the evil intentions that make Daniel snap.

For reasons not fully known to him, Daniel is not hung for treason, though he is forced to leave the Marines and New South Wales, where he expected to spend the rest of his days. He sees Tagaran one last time and the image of her standing alone on a rock in the sea, waving to his ship as he sails off for England stays with him the rest of his life. Daniel settles in Antigua, where he buys and frees as many slaves as he can and grows into an old man, continuing to watch the stars in their mapped-out order, settled in their places as he, for a time, was too.

Inspired by the notebooks of British Revolutionary War patriot, William Dawes, The Lieutenant is an extraordinary story about the poignancy and emotional power of friendship, and how through that bond a man might find his true self.

Product Details

$14.95  $13.75
Grove Press
Publish Date
September 14, 2010
6.54 X 0.8 X 8.24 inches | 0.63 pounds
BISAC Categories:

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About the Author

Kate Grenville is one of Australia's best-loved authors. Her works of fiction include The Secret River, winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and The Idea of Perfection, winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction.


"Grenville's portrait of the obtuse yet engaging Rooke and her descriptions of this strange territory are marvelously evocative. . . . The fragility of the encounters [between Rooke and Tagaran] further heightens the suspense that Grenville so deftly sustains. Tragedy looms, of course, just outside the delicate frame of this elegiac novel, but Grenville allows us to marvel at 'one universe in the act of encountering another' even as we dread the inevitable result."--Anna Mundow, The Boston Globe

"[A] richly imagined portrait of a deeply introspective, and quite remarkable, man."--Alison McCulloch, The New York Times Book Review

"Exquisite . . . Grenville has created a magnificent work of fiction that encompasses the excitement of adventure, the thrill of discovery, the mysteries of the unknown, the ambiguity of relationships and the ethical and moral dilemma of choosing between duty to country or to mankind."--Corinna Lothar, The Washington Times

"A prescriptive plea for cultural understanding [that] draws revelatory connections between emotional empathy and scientific discovery. . . . The crisp prose of The Lieutenant [often] approaches poetry . . . [and] compels as a historical novel exploring the sins of Australia's colonial past, an admirable testament to the necessity that the West learn to appreciate rather than condemn the Other. But Grenville's most thrilling achievement is to filter that lesson in social acceptance through the computational consciousness of a man whose head is in the stars."--Bill Marx, Los Angeles Times

"Grenville has written an elegant and elegiac account of recognizing the other and allowing it to remain so."--Bethanne Patrick, Barnes and

"[Full of] honest beauty."--The New Yorker

"What differentiates The Lieutenant from The Secret River is a surprising and refreshing theme of belonging and connectivity. Present are Grenville's consistent abilities to understand and re-birth history into a contextual narrative, but here those skills coalesce into an overarching message: 'Everything is part of every other thing, now and forever.' . . . . Understanding and meaning [can be] found far from anything we could have imagined. The Lieutenant is a great read that reminds us the finding is possible."--Michelle AuBuchon, Brooklyn Rail

"Grenville perfectly conveys the complexities of learning a language that is utterly different in sound, syntax, and concept from every other language one knows. . . . In the writing of this novel, [Grenville] has demonstrated both rigor and courage. . . . [The Lieutenant] raising the moral issues of [The Secret River] to a new level of consideration."--Margaret Black, Metroland

"Lyrical . . . This novel of discovery is about much more than exploring new lands. It
is about one man's personal voyage into the heart of a people."--Mary Ellen Quinn, Booklist

"Vivid . . . Delightful . . . Grenville's storytelling shines: the backdrop is lush and Daniel is a wonderful creation--a conflicted, curious and endearing eccentric."--Publishers Weekly

"Masterful . . . Grenville's easy writing leads us gently toward the inevitable cultural collision, building subtle tension as the playing field becomes more and more uneven. And woven throughout this fictionalized history is a moving and compassionate glimpse into the proud intelligence of the Aboriginal tribes in that moment of hesitation before good intentions are swept aside in the name of queen and country."--Judith Meyrick, The Chronicle Herald
"Grenville has fashioned an original, inviting tale that makes her country's colonial history as fresh as it is to her wide-eyed protagonist in 1788. . . . Grenville's prose is clear and clean . . . [with] an innocence to the voice that is almost reminiscent of a fairytale and its purposeful naivety well suits the point of view of a curious but inexperienced hero. . . . Basing her tale on real events and a real historical character, Grenville has brought imagination and compassion to the source of so much of Australia's retroactive hand-wringing. What distinguishes her portrayal of the Aboriginal culture is that for once appreciation, sympathy, and admiration get the better of impotent guilt."--Lionel Shriver, The Telegraph

"A particular kind of stillness marks out Grenville's characters as uniquely hers. . . . The relationship between the awkward soldier, in his red coat and brass buttons, and the young naked girl, is a beautifully uplifting piece of fiction. Nimbly avoiding categorizations of filial, fraternal or sexual love, their sharing of language and then understanding simply describes the love that one human being finally finds for another. . . . Between the words and among them, this is a profoundly uplifting novel--one that leaves you understanding Rooke's premise: that "Truth [needs] hundreds of words, or none."--Katy Guest, The Independent

"I'm a shamefully late, and enraptured, discoverer of Kate Grenville, whose The Lieutenant is a supremely good novel. . . . [It] has excited me more than any novel I've read since those of W. G. Sebald."--Diana Athill
"The encounters between Rooke and the Gadigal, especially a young girl called Tagaran, are wonderfully shimmering and authentic...gripping, I couldn't put it down."--Weekend Herald (New Zealand)

"An extraordinary adventure into the nature of language, culture and human communication. It is also a thrilling alternative history of modern Australia's beginnings. . . . Grenville's great victory in this book is to show us that language is so much more than vocabulary or even grammar and syntax...Grenville's writing is so clear as to be transparent...All in all, an epiphanous book, her best, I think."--Listener

"[The Lieutenant] has a potency and beauty that lingers in both the heart and mind's eye. . . . The scenes between Rooke and Tagaran are superbly written, and Grenville conveys not only the sense of true kinship that grows between them, but also the euphoria of connection and understanding between two people from different universes. [The Lieutenant] visits a part of Australian black-white history and finds a true heart of goodness there."--Lucy Clark, Sunday Telegraph

"Grenville inhabits characters with a rare completeness . . . and writes with a poet's sense of rhythm and imagery. . . . [She] explores the natural rifts that arise between settlers and native people with a deep understanding of the ambiguities inherent in such conflicts. . . . [Grenville] occupies the mind of Rooke with a kind of vivid insistence, and his isolation--and moral dilemmas--become ours."--Jay Parini, Guardian Review

"[The Lieutenant] glows with life: imaginative in its recreations, respectful of what cannot be imagined, and thoughtful in its interrogation of the past. . . . Grenville's most intellectually sophisticated novel to date."--Kerryn Goldsworthy, Age

"An intelligent, spare, always engrossing imagining of first contact, in which the fictionalization of history allows a comment about current postcolonial race relationships which escapes the didacticism of special pleading."--Patrick Denman Flanery, Times Literary Supplement

"In lucid prose and perfectly measured strides, Grenville lays down her riveting tale."--Stephanie Cross, The Daily Mail

"Genuinely affecting, [The Lieutenant] is another capable tranche of character-based, historical fiction and a worthy foil to its predecessor."--Melissa McClements, The Financial Times

"The Lieutenant runs deep. . . . [Grenville's] mastery of the English language . . . [and] of the time past . . . amazingly evokes the serene and the sterile, the beautiful and the bleak. . . . This book should be read."--Ifedinma Dimbo, Metro Eireann

"Rooke and Tagaran . . . develop together the first stumbling vocabulary and grammar of an indigenous Australian language for English speakers. . . . This exploration project, undertaken marvelously as a language adventure, is an Australian fiction delight. . . . Grenville hasn't written a historical novel. She has written astutely about dark hearts today."--Nigel Krauth, Australian

"[Grenville's] reflections on the relationship of language to life, perspective to meaning, literature to truth all sprout from the seeds of historical record and twine enticingly throughout the novel."--Katharine England, Adelaide Advertiser

"[With The Lieutenant] Grenville achieves what few Australian writers have accomplished: a convincing paean to Australia's seductiveness. . . . Character is one of [Grenville's] strong suits, and this vision of a budding relationship between the sparkling Aboriginal girl and the sensitive young man of science is a triumph of imaginative history. Grenville's book has a point of view, to be sure, but it also has a sense of humor--and its power, like that of all great novels, derives from the author's deep and abiding affection for all concerned."--Christina Thompson, The Monthly [AU]

"From one of [Australia's] most accomplished novelists, [The Lieutenant] a universal story of the great and joyous gravity of decent human interaction, of finding then unlocking your soul. It is also a platonic love story that is profoundly moving. . . . This is a book about the power of language--what we say and don't say."--Matthew Condon. Courier-Mail [AU]

"Grenville has fashioned an original, inviting tale that makes her country's colonial history as fresh as it is to her wide-eyed protagonist in 1788. . . . Grenville's prose is clear and clean . . . [with] an innocence to the voice that is almost reminiscent of a fairytale and its purposeful naivety well suits the point of view of a curious but inexperienced hero. . . . Basing her tale on real events and a real historical character, Grenville has brought imagination and compassion to the source of so much of Australia's retroactive hand-wringing. What distinguishes her portrayal of the Aboriginal culture is that for once appreciation, sympathy, and admiration get the better of impotent guilt."--Lionel Shriver, The Telegraph [UK]

"A compelling and beautifully written book--everything readers have come to expect from Kate Grenville."--South Coast Register

"An amazing and quietly charming story."--Belletrista


"Kate Grenville, an Australian writer of impeccable talents, conjures up this new South Wales as few writers could - with sentences so astonishingly muscular and right that readers will dream the landscape at night. . . . The Secret River is a masterwork, a book that transcends its historical fiction and becomes something deeply contemporary and pressing. Nothing save for pure genius can explain the quality of this book. Against every measure by which a book might be judged, this one transcends. It deserves every prize it already has received, and every prize yet to come."--Chicago Tribune

"For the Australian pioneer of Kate Grenville's hugely filmic The Secret River, a land of opportunity becomes a moral wilderness worthy of Conrad."--Vogue

"There are books which when you have turned the final page leave you unable to speak or move from the place you have been reading; this is just such a book. . . . A riveting story of forging a new life on a breathtakingly described Australian frontier, the conflict between the new arrival and the aboriginal population, and the price of success."--The Boston Globe

"Grenville's psychological acuity, and the sheer gorgeousness of her descriptions of the territory being fought over, pulls us ever deeper into a time when one community's opportunity spelled another's doom."--The New Yorker

"Grenville is a fine, poetic writer who takes a lot of risks... What's remarkable about the novel is not how it recreates time and place, but the way Grenville manages to make us understand Thornhill's state of mind... the story hones towards violence and retribution, retaliation and escalation like a thriller."--Newsday

"The most remarkable quality of Kate Grenville's new novel is the way it conveys the enormous tragedy of Australia's founding through the moral compromises of a single ordinary man. Grenville's powerful telling of this story is so moving, so exciting, that you're barely aware of how heavy and profound its meaning is until you reach the end in a moment of stunned sadness."--The Washington Post

"Americans will find Grenville's eloquent pioneer story at once foreign and stunningly familiar."--Entertainment Weekly

"Plotting and characterization are so skillful that the book's tragic climax seems inevitable. Grenville writes lyrically, especially in her description of the Australian landscape, while her gift for the telling phrase - one that conveys a paragraph of description in a few words - enlivens an essentially dark narrative."--Booklist

"Grenville earns her praise, presenting the settler-aboriginal conflict with equanimity and understanding, sharp prose and a vivid frontier family."--Publishers' Weekly

"No fingers are pointed: we understand only too well what brought these people together and then thrust them apart, and the story's resolution achieves genuine tragic grandeur. Grenville's best, and a giant leap forward."--Kirkus Reviews (starred)

"This novel is a perceptive and masterful portrayal of the lives of some of Australian's earliest European settlers... the clash between the old and new worlds is elegantly conveyed, as is that between the native Australians and the settlers."--Independent Booksellers Book Sense Picks

"I consumed Kate Grenville's The Secret River in one sitting... it is so darn good, a powerful novel told in the unique language of Australians. Want a satisfying, memorable read, one that you can recommend to family and friends? The Secret River will not let you down."--Sun Times Review

"One of the most entertaining, accomplished, engaging novels written in this country. . . . It will live on as a classic."--Courier-Mail

"Grenville does it with such inventive energy, descriptive verve and genuine love of revitalising history that you'll bite the hand that tries to haul you away from this book. . . . The Secret River is fabulous historical fiction."--The Weekend Australian

"A book everyone should read. It is evocative, gracefully written, terrible and confronting. And it has resonance for every Australian."--Sunday Mail

"Grenville has a reputation for elegant prose that cuts to the very heart of her subject matter with breathtaking precision. With The Secret River she has done it again in spades."--Vogue Australia

"Grenville's new book is beautifully imagined and executed . . . subtle and satisfying."--Age

"Such is the power of Grenville's imagination that everything seems newly minted."--Bulletin

"Settings are vividly evoked . . . minor characters are striking, memorable figures. But the distinction of this in some ways courageous novel resides in its central characters. . . . Grenville has exercised the writer's privilege of allowing the reader to penetrate the minds and souls of those we are inclined to condemn."--Sydney Morning Herald

"The Secret River stands out as a work of sustained power and imagination, of poetry and insight. No truer piece of fiction has been written about the Australian past."--The Australian

"This wonderful story about ownership and identity is filled with images that transports you immediately to its heart."--The Australian

"With The Secret River Kate Grenville has surpassed herself. The relevance of this tale of early transportation and contact with the Aboriginal people spreads far beyond Australian borders . . . a profoundly important book."--Listener (New Zealand)

"In spare, unpretentious prose, Grenville charts the brutal truth that violence breeds violence. Splendidly paced, passionate and disturbing."--Sally Vickers, The Times

"This is a moving account of the brutal collision of two cultures; but it is the vivid evocation of the harshly beautiful landscape that is the novel's outstanding achievement."--Simon Humphreys, Mail on Sunday

"A vivid and moving portrayal of poverty, struggle and the search for peace."--Independent

"Grenville shows again the excellent form that won her the Orange Prize."--Sunday Times

"An outstanding study of cultures in collision. . . . A chilling, meticulous account of the sorrows and evils of colonialism . . . Kate Grenville is a sophisticated writer."--Jem Poster, Guardian

"She gives a fiercely intelligent portrayal of a clash of consequence the novel works on two levels: the historical and particular, and the philosophical, bringing into question the extent to which it is possible to own anything, even one's life."--Times Literary Supplement

"A richly layered tale of a fierce and unforgiving backdrop, the quest for its ownership, and the brutal price paid by those who would colonise it it vividly described. . . . This is a dramatic, beautiful work - on a par with Patrick White or Sally Morgan - that will ensure Grenville's place on the international market."--Scotland on Sunday

"Grenville writes prose which is immediately engaging. There are overtones of Macbeth in this study in how a man, not inherently evil, can be corrupted by circumstances. Grenville's skill is to turn what could have been too obviously a representative moral fable into a rich novel of character."--Sunday Telegraph

"A few sentences of Grenville's makes one realise that much of the writing one encounters in a novel these days is thin and perfunctory. Reading The Secret River may put you off anything less accomplished for a while."--Daily Express

"The Secret River is a sad book, beautifully written."--Observer

"A revelation... an engrossing account of early Australian history... she has written honestly and credibly about the complexity of the relationship between Aborigine and white settler."--Sunday Tribune (Dublin)

"Grenville controls terrifying material without resorting to polemic. Her sense of humanity elevates her work beyond simply rage or sentimentality. This is why she is a major writer and, with Peter Carey, a worth heir of Patrick White."--Irish Times


"The Idea of Perfection warms both heart and head, for the bliss it affords is not so much visceral as aesthetic, even architectural."--Don Anderson, Australian Review of Books

"It's an outrageously entertaining book - witty, tender and full of no-nonsense lyricism."--Hepzibah Anderson, The Daily Mail

"Grenville manufactures an extraordinary comedy of manners, made all the more powerful by her own reticence as a writer."--Alice Cartwright, The Guardian

"Piquant and memorable."--Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

"The Idea of Perfection is a very fine novel... Grenville's paean to the heroism of imperfection could so easily slide into sentimentality. That it doesn't is a testament to her skill. There's nothing trite about the violent, sensual colour in her descriptions of the Australian bush, or her compassion for her eccentric characters."--James Eve, The Times

"The way the narrative coaxes these two awkward characters together is perfect in both its restraint and its careful observation of human frailty... as usual, Grenville's prose is fluid and evocative, distinguished by precise, often haunting imagery... a beautifully crafted piece of work. This is wonderful writing made even more perfect by its deliberate and artful risks."--Mandy Sayer, The Bulletin

"What remains unambiguous . . . is the magnitude of the talent at work and the depths of satisfaction is it capable of yielding. . . . This is a novel that will have the kind of breadth of appeal that one associates with a writer like Annie Proulx."--Peter Craven, Age