My guess is that at the end of the year, English Passengers will be one of my favorite reads I love the variety of methods used to tell the tale, the wit, unique characters all interwoven in the history of Tasmania.
Its worth all 4.
5 of its snurly stars My English Passenger blogpost.
An excellently quirky, educational, thought provoking, and often humourous book that avoids being confusing despite multiple narrators or off putting when describing the shocking aspects of the near extinction of Aborigines in Tasmania and the views of white supremacists Even the potentially awkward mix of socio political themes and jolly japes works.
PLOT Not saying than is on the back cover It is set in the 1800s and opens with the crew of Sincerity from the Isle of Man, intent on petty smuggling, but who end up taking some Englishmen to Tasmania, including a priest with a penchant for geology who thinks he will find the Garden of Eden, and a doctor intent on proving the superiority of white races in scientific terms In Tasmania, relations between white settlers and local Aborigines are deadly and often shocking, whether those settlers be impoverished seal hunters or rich and powerful soldiers or officials The general events in Tasmania are broadly true Events on the boat provide a contrasting degree of levity.
A few of the plot twists were annoyingly predictable but I loved the irony of the ending, plus the final post script, which fully justified the inclusion of some of the unpleasant aspects in the novel itself.
NARRATIONI lost track of the number of narrators, but each has a distinct voice, and is explicitly introduced Some tell one small part of the story, while others recur many times A difficult trick for a writer to make work, but Kneale manages it.
THEMESIt opens with a philosophical conundrum that defines the book Say a man catches a bullet through his skull in somebody s war, so where s the beginning of that the day our hero goes marching off to fight when he s just turned six and sees soldiers striding down the street that night when a little baby is born By extrapolation, who is to blame for the near extinction of the Tasmanian Aborigines Conflict and opportunism are at the heart of the book no one gets on with anyone else with the general exception of the Manx crew and everyone is trying to achieve personal success at the expense of others not generally financial, though This is often fuelled by self deceit and the desire to see evidence and patterns where none exists.
Class, science, religion, nationalism, colonialism paternalism, exploitation , evangelism, culture clashes, racial identity and tension, crime and punishment redemption, reform , murder, revenge, and genocide are the main themes Smuggling and survival are minor, but pertinent distractions The book is crawling with hypocrites, including the three, very different, main characters Some are amusing, like Captain Kewley who justifies smuggling as altruistic capitalism, but others, especially Rev Wilson, have few redeeming features, while Peevay s personal history means he starts off in credit with the reader and for most, probably remains so Rev Wilson is the worst, though he is an easy target His modus operandi is pious prayer that demeans and criticises those he dislikes he always prays for their improvement, rather than his tolerance, whist stating I am not one to judge , just as he does so.
Captain Kewley does have some redeeming features In particular, view spoiler he twice saves enemies, at considerable risk to himself hide spoiler A Big, Ambitious Novel With A Rich Historical Sweep And A Host Of Narrative Voices Its Subject Is A Vicar S Ludicrous Expedition In To The Garden Of Eden In Tasmania, As Meanwhile, In Tasmania Itself, The British Settlers Are Alternately Trying To Civilise And Eliminate The Aboriginal Population The Sort Of Novel That Few Contemporary Writers Have Either The Imagination Or The Stamina To Sustain Daily Telegraph Kneale s book tries and largely succeeds in being multiple things First of all, it s good historical fiction the kind where the education comes sans textbook aridity Much of the story is set in Tasmania in the 1800s where the native Aborigines were underfoot and too many British imperialists were wearing heavy boots A character named Peevay is one of the principal narrators, offering a unique perspective as the son of an English father and a resistant, indigenous mother The other storyline was a seafaring adventure The captain and crew were Manxmen and as such had a different language and culture that added color to the mix They had failed in their attempts at smuggling and had no other recourse than to take a small but paying set of passengers from England to Tasmania Yet another goal of the book was to expose some of the day s egregious notions related to colonialism, evangelism, racism, and class.
Somebody counted the number of narrators in this book to be 19 Only a handful were major, though, with repeated chances to tell their side of things The first was Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley who had a plan to run brandy and tobacco from the Isle of Man to England for a quick profit Customs officials had other ideas, of course, forcing Kewley and his crew to scramble to pay their fine They chartered out their ship, ironically named Sincerity, to Reverend Wilson, who had convinced himself with God s presumed guidance that the Garden of Eden was actually in Tasmania, and Dr Potter, who wanted to collect evidence supporting his wrong headed theories about race and ethnicity There were some humorous moments when Wilson s cluelessness was on full display My astute Goodreads friend, Helle, likened him in her review to Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice The following gives you an idea of what we mean I began my ministry with some zeal, endeavouring to improve the lives of my flock by launching a little campaign to have the alehouse open only three days in the week instead of seven, and offering as a nobler recompense two extra church services Sadly this little initiative was answered, in certain quarters, with something like hostility.
Potter was vile in his own way, but at least he served as a pain in the pious Reverend s rear end They were joined by a third Englishman, a young botanist who was lazy and self centered, but a possible candidate for redemption The interplay among the passengers and the crew shed plenty of light on the vast sea of moral philosophy Conflict was easy to come by, especially in close quarters.
Peevay, his defiant mother, and their dwindling tribe faced conflict of a different sort sickness, murder, and oppression Their spears were no match for the firearms and bad intent directed their way Even putatively good intentions often worked against them Peevay s narrative began decades before Sincerity s arrival, but ultimately caught up The convergence of these two storylines brought about even folly and hypocrisy And let s not forget atrocities The book definitely did not turn a blind eye to them.
The multifold narration, in my view, mostly worked As a rule, it kept the stories from growing stale The subtle humor helped, too, where the butts of the jokes invariably had it coming I also consider the language a strength varied and slightly archaic My only real criticism is that it seemed to drag in places, and a few of the characters seemed superfluous In the end, though, the four stars I m giving it should tell you that the pleasures and education I gained outweighed the tedium The Booker committee evidently agreed, and in fact, saw their own scales tipping even to that side.
English Passengers is one of the best novels I have ever read A story told by multiple narrators, it initially focuses on a Manx smuggling vessel which sets off for England only to get chartered to set sail to Van Diemen s Land Tasmania because some crazy reverend is convinced that Van Diemen s Land is the site of the Garden of Eden Among the ship s many larger than life passengers are the reverend himself, a doctor with some rather alarming racial theories and a captain desperate to keep his secret cargo hidden from his passengers and make a profit from the unexpected detour to the other side of the planet Their adventures on board the ship alternate with those of Peevay, a Tasmanian Aborigine boy who describes his people s struggle against the white settlers who seek to displace them Eventually the two storylines intersect, setting the stage for war, mutiny and shipwreck and a very satisfying finale that had me grinning for hours English Passengers paints a vivid and frequently shocking picture of Australian history and the Victorian era in general, and is worth reading for that reason alone However, the real reason to pick up the book is Kneale s phenomenal writing Like David Mitchell, Kneale has mastered the art of telling a story from different perspectives, and then some English Passengers is told from about twenty vastly different points of view, and while some of them ring a bit false, the majority are utterly convincing, not to mention gripping Both the characterisation and the use of language are superb Add a ferocious black sense of humour and a ring of truth part of the Tasmanian chapters is based on true events and you have a magnificent book, at turns thought provoking and funny Highly recommended to anyone who likes a good, entertaining work of fiction with a message.
Moderni klasik engleske knji evnosti Uzgred, autor je bio odu evljen time kako se po srpski pi e njegovo ime Metju Nil 1860 1936.
S This is one of the few books that I have given up on reading I had a strong sense of wrongness from many of the point of view POV characters and quickly began to skim read before skimming off the book all together.
By wrongness I mean that the POVs seemed to me to strike false notes they didn t seem fictional enough to me All novels are constructed things Fiction is the deliberate choice of unreal elements to achieve the effect chosen by the author, but in this case it felt too obviously so for me and I simply found it too didactic, which I suppose is hard to avoid in a novel dealing with the extermination of the Tasmanian Aborigines The settlers were familiar with their Herodotus and swept across the island in the same style as the Kings of Persia went hunting for game, its how we made the modern world I abandoned with the book with prejudice, I feel awkward about this because the author s mother is Judith Kerr who delighted me in childhood with The Tiger who came to Tea and Mog the Forgetful Cat Anyhow within the novel are subsumed nationalities, nineteenth century race science, a plurality of voices and various other things that many other readers have enjoyed as a complete edifice, while for me this was one of those books were I was painful aware of the building blocks it was constructed from.
An immensely satisfying read and a literary adventure That s what this book was It began with the first line Say a man catches a bullet through his skull in somebody s war, so where s the beginning of that How can you not be pulled into a story that begins thus On top of that, the man behind this first line bears the auspicious name of Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley, and he is as delightful as his name suggests though you cannot see his piratical side from the name, but it is there Captain Kewley is the light of the story, the comic relief, the voice that steers the reader through the story and indeed through the waters of the globe, from Britain to Tasmania And there we encounter an atrocious chapter of British imperial history and the denigration of the Tasmanian Aboriginals.
So, we have here the big story the atrocities in Tasmania, historically accurate and probably unknown to most people and we have the smaller stories, those of Captain Kewley and his passengers, notably an insufferable reverend and an old fashioned doctor, the former in search of the Garden of Eden, which he has every reason to believe is located in Tasmania, the latter in search of specimens the story begins in 1857, two years prior to the publication of The Origin of Species It is a story about men s fates The shift in, and authenticity of the, narrators reminded me of Cloud Atlas, the old fashioned storytelling of Wilkie Collins I would add that the novel also requires the patience that these two authors demand That sounds unkind, but it actually reflects that this is a Big book, if also a bit long Reverend Wilson has a distant cousin in the sanctimonious Mr Collins from Pride and Prejudice, and the Aboriginal boy, Peevay, has his own language as original as Harri s in Pigeon English The result is utterly convincing, and through these characters and the big and the small stories Matthew Kneale manages to be alternately outrageously funny and monstrously tragic At all times, the story is exquisitely told, uniquely so No wonder this was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2000 This book was written by an enormously talented writer at a time when it seems to me few books like this are being written this expertly.
Say a man catches a bullet through his skull in somebody s war, so where s the beginning of that This perfectly fine question is posed by captain Illiam Quillian Kewley at the beginning of English Passengers The year is 1857, and Kewley and his crew of Manx sailors only wished to transport some duty free liquor from the Isle of Man strategically located right in the middle of the Irish Sea to mainland England, where the ruthless British Customs officials were waiting for them to do just that, so they could impose a fine on the prosperous sailors The enormous fine forces Kewley to rebrand his vessel whis is named wait for it Sincerity into a travelling ship, and offer to take anyone pretty much anywhere, as long as it s soon and sufficiently away from British customs officials This is when the Reverend Geoffrey Wilson enters the scene he is a vicar devoted to proving the accuracy of Scripture and through close reading grew convinced that the Garden of Eden is located not in Arabia, as it was previously thought, but in a small island called Tasmania, south of Australia Accompanying him is Timothy Renshaw, a botanist, and Dr Thomas Potter, a racial theorist who has his own reasons for taking the journey Captain Kewley has little choice but to take them on board, and Sincerity sets the course to the distant island.
Now, for a bit of historical trivia The English Passengers of the title are not limited to those aboard the Sincerity The 19th century was the age of British colonialism, a time when the nation had no equal in global dominance Even the loss of the thirteen colonies in North America, which were among its oldest and most populous, did not stop the empire from growing it soon expanded into Asia and Africa, along with Australia and various other islands on the Pacific The English people colonized and settled, and traveled around the globe many of them with malicious intent of benefitting from the new colonies, paying little heed to the native populations even the colonist which intended to spread education and progress could have inflicted harm by their ignorance Not all emigrants left willingly 19th century Britain was ridden with poverty, unemployed and crime, and one of the main reasons for British settlement of Australia was the establishment of penal colonies there, and subsequent transportation of convicts from overpopulated British correction centers Approximately 165,000 convicts have been sent to Australia, where they had to work for the government as a part of their sentence, thus freeing Britain from spending money on them and offering almost free labor for its colonies What s slightly less known is that not all British deportees were adults the infamous Home Children program forcefully sent than 100,000 British children from various child care organizations to provide for labor in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and other parts of the Commonwealth Not all of them were orphans many parents gave their children to such organizations during hard times, and when they came back they were told that the child has died The practice continued well into the 20th century, and thousands of children were expatriated to Australia between the 40 s and 70 s Men who smiled and wore suits, and told them about this wonderful place called Australia where the sun shines all the time and where you can pick up oranges straight from the trees and eat them for breakfast, where they will ride to school on horses They were told that their parents died, and they had no family in Britain why not go The colonists paid little attention to silly kid dreams of oranges and horses They saw children as particularly attractive immigrants they thought of them as able to accomodate to new conditions much easily than adults Children also had a long working life ahead of them, and it cost much less to feed and house them in the colonies than in the UK After arrival in Australia they were immediately placed in state institutions and orphanages, where they often experienced psychical and mental abuse To earn their keep they were forced to work in severe conditions out in the open, without any protection from scorching weather, or deep down underground in dangerous mines Some of these children found foster families, but the majority were not as lucky they would help build the empire worth millions for pennies Child miners in Australia in the 1800 s Thousand of British children deported to Australia are remembered today as the Forgotten Australians.
Now let us get back to the book Structurally, it is a small wonder Kneale pays homage to the polylogic epistolary novel, and employs over 19 separate narrators this is no mean feat of literary ventriloquism, as his characters have distinctive voices and personalities He makes full use of discrepant awareness the unequal distribution of knowledge among the protagonists, used to heighten suspense and dramatic tension This device allows the reader to cross examine the characters, often to comical and or ironic effect The quirky voice of Manx captain Kewley is probably the favorite and funniest, as his sense of irony and biting humor are spot on and a delight to read The old salty smuggler who is always scheming could easily fill up a whole novel, and the bad luck which seems to send plague after plague upon his person will gain him sympathy even in the most hardhearted of readers.
The animosity between Reverend Wilson and Doctor Potter both men of immense egos is fantastic, especially because the omniscient narration does not get in the way and we can see what both men think of one another Wilson brands Potter as a heretic, while Potter thinks Wilson is an old lunatic Their respective approach to the journey and what they consider to be their goals reflect the conflict between Biblical creationist and naturalistic evolutionists, prominent in the 19th century Hit heavily by the discoveries of Darwin and Wallace, creationists still sought ways of defending the Biblical story of creation as does Reverend Wilson with his own theory of Divine Refrigeration which makes it possible for the Garden of Eden to be located in Tasmania Dr Potter is convinced that the Saxon race is above all in intelligence and capabilities, destined to rule above other races he keenly observes the people and notes down their behavior, being most efficient with his words and underlining a lot, making sure that his observations confirm his already made conclusions which interestingly they always do He has his own interest in the Australian aborigines, and works tirelessly on what he considers to be the accomplishment of his life a volume he titled The Destiny of Nations, which he is sure will bring him fame and recognition Their utter cluelesness combined with the vivid animosity for one another serves for many a comic moment.
Beside the sailors, scientists and a priest, the novel features the voice of Peevay, a Tasmanian aboriginal His storyline begins in 1828, 30 years before Sincerity will begin her fateful journey Back in 1828, Tasmania was experiencing what could be called a British Invasion only it s not the Beatles, it s the settlers They have been slowly sneaking into the island, swallowing it piece by piece, until relations with aboriginal tribes escalated into violence Peevay is a half bred child, whose aboriginal mother was kidnapped and raped by an escaped convict She is now fueled with a hatred towards all whites and Peevay, who reminds her of his father and her only desire is to find and kill him Wanting to win back her love, desperate Peevay joins her in her fight, even though he does not understand why the whites are in Tasmania, their greed for his land and atrocities against his people Peevay s narration is almost Faulkneresque written from a perspective who is intelligent and interested in words, but wholly separate from a culture which invented and used them Therefore, each discovery of a new word requires capitalization one can almost feel his sense of wonder Truly it was a mystery to confuse how they ever could kill all my ones and steal the world, or even why they wanted it, as it was no place they could endure Why, they couldn t live here just alone but had to carry some HOBART TOWN with them hither and thither.
Peevay s sections progress towards the future, where Sincerity is sailing for Tasmania, and are alternated with chapters narrated by the crew and those composed of letters and dispatched from other English settlers the two eventually intersect, and merge Kneale never lets the reader drown in his sea of voices, and although the sails of his ship might feel to be losing wind at times the currents will carry it through to its very end, along with reader And is it some story Well written, rich with everything one can wish for in a novel, and best of all it really works Matthew Kneale managed to skilfully weave so many voices into a tale which could easily ended up as incoherent babble, full of insulting stereotypes, hopeless cliches and lame jokes But not only is it genuinely funny it s also genuinely moving, as it tackles serious issues with respect they deserve, reserving the pokes for the silly ones It s cast of characters is wonderful and memorable, and the storyline is quite brilliant because of them and it s a pleasure to see them interact and explore that wild land, untamed by man Kneale obviously did his research to render both the setting and characters authentic, as he even provides a 75 word lexicon of Manx words at the end of the book to understand captain Kewley s seasoned retorts Full of intelligence, wit and feeling, which are so rare to find together, English Passengers is an undiscovered gem which I am so glad to have found and will happily return to again in the future.