Now jump back 30 years, to 1828, when a revolution of sorts is stirring on the island of Tasmania. Over the years white settlers have been encroaching on aboriginal land and relations have deteriorated into violence. At the heart of the action is Peevay, a young man abandoned by his aborigine mother, who had been kidnapped and raped by a white escaped convict. Now his vengeful mother is leading a war against the whites, and Peevay, desperate to win her love, has joined her. Chapters from the past narrated by Peevay and augmented by letters and dispatches from white settlers alternate with the sections told by Kewley, Wilson, Renshaw and Potter. Eventually, of course, the two timelines intersect with momentous results.
War, mutiny, shipwreck and not a little farce make English Passengers a gripping read, but it is Matthew Kneale's literary ventriloquism that renders it remarkable. In a novel with so many different points of view, the individuality of each voice stands out. There is, for instance, the mutinous Dr Potter, whose descent into paranoia and egomania results in diary entries reminiscent of a 19th-century psychotic Bridget Jones: "Manxmen = treacherous even to v. last. Self heard Brew (lashed to mainmast as per usual) instructing helmsman to steer N.N.W. when self questioned he re. this he claiming we = carried into Bay of Biscay by difficult sea currents + must set course to avoid Breton Peninsular. He pointing to distant point of land to N.N.E. claiming this = Brittany. Self = doubtful".
Perhaps the most compelling voice in English Passengers belongs to Peevay, who paints a vivid picture of aboriginal life in a foreign tongue he nonetheless makes his own:
When we sat so in the dark, after our eating, Tartoyen told us stories--secret stories that I will not say even now--about the moon and sun, and how everyone got made, from men and wallaby to seal and kangaroo rat and so. Also he told who was in those rocks and mountains and stars, and how they went there. Until, by and by, I could hear stories as we walked across the world, and divine how it got so, till I knew the world as if he was some family fellow of mine.By the close of this epic tale, the world Peevay knew has gone forever, and the lives of the Manx sailors and English passengers have been irrevocably changed. Based on real events in Tasmanian history, Matthew Kneale's novel delivers a home truth about Australia's brutal colonial past, even as it conveys the wonder and allure of the age of exploration. --Alix Wilber
What the Whitbread judges said: “English Passengers reads like a dream – one of the most enjoyable books we’ve ever read for pure, unadulterated, page-turning excitement. Unquestionably the novel of the year for its stunning historical depth, superb control of narrative and masterly mix of tragedy and comedy, and for Kneale’s remarkable ability to deal with complex historical truths without ever resorting to bogus hypocritical cant. An absolute delight, from start to finish.”--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Not in the best of condition--a bit on the grubby side but perfectly readable and good value. Delivered very quickly. Would deal again.Published 2 months ago by Mrs. M. Stamp
This is a fascinating book about the early settlers in Tasmania from various points of view, the aboriginal, the convict, the settler and visiting passengers of the title. Read morePublished 6 months ago by cassandra
The narrative charts a journey from England to Tasmania incorporating smuggling, religious zeolots, jumped-up scientists and pigs. Read morePublished on 17 April 2001
really enjoyed this, after the disjointed start, with so many different voices chipping in, you can see how it's all going to come together. Read morePublished on 6 April 2001
I have just finished reading "English Passengers". It took me a while to read it (5 weeks), as I tend to read in bed and fall asleep after a few pages. Read morePublished on 1 April 2001 by Jennifer McCullough
As soon as I put the book down I began to miss them all especially Peevay and Capt. Kewley. No ship was ever sailed by a more deserving racketeer. A great read.Published on 25 Mar. 2001
This book was excellent, and I'm not surprised that it won the Whitbred award 2000. Kneale writes in wonderful prose and is extreamly witty at times. Read morePublished on 20 Feb. 2001
..on various levels. I found this book a sheer delight to read, I could not put it down. The prose was excellent and the storytelling top notch. Read morePublished on 15 Feb. 2001 by Al plus boots
English Passengers was a thoroughly enjoyable book, but that is about the best I can say of it. Aside from the aboriginal boy and Captian Kewley, the characters are remarkable... Read morePublished on 18 Oct. 2000