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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing insight into an amazing period
This suberbly written book takes quite a bit of effort to get into, but is well worth persevering. I was warned that the large number of seemingly unrelated storytellers (including Peevay, an Aborigine boy) would be quite hard to cope with at first. Once you get past this hurdle, however, Kneale gives brilliant simultaneous insights into a number of facinating worlds...
Published on 1 May 2002

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Book
Rated because of the content of the book. It was a difficult story to follow and I did not appreciate the change of dialect involving many types of person.
Published 6 months ago by Sally Seaman


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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing insight into an amazing period, 1 May 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: English Passengers (Paperback)
This suberbly written book takes quite a bit of effort to get into, but is well worth persevering. I was warned that the large number of seemingly unrelated storytellers (including Peevay, an Aborigine boy) would be quite hard to cope with at first. Once you get past this hurdle, however, Kneale gives brilliant simultaneous insights into a number of facinating worlds that are long gone. An age of exploration is displayed in parallel with the striking image of brutality that the European settlers portray, and the situation of the confused but defiant surviving groups of Aborigines.
The book really brings home the sheer arrogance of the settlers of that time, and you cannot help but feel a sense of profound pity at the extinction of a unique people. This, of course is not the first book that has done this, but Kneale's brilliant narrative style serves to really underline the different motives behind the settlers. Some cannot see any point in even giving the 'savages' a life, and others held a wish to preserve the culture (even if it was primarily with a concern for the image of Britain).This serious aspect is intertwined with a brilliant story of adventure that ends with a thriller-like sequence of events. The different threads of the brilliant (and in some cases repulsive) characters all tie together in a very satisfying manner. The true meaning of a page turner.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly outstanding, 28 Feb 2004
By 
This review is from: English Passengers (Paperback)
There I was, in my local library, mooching about looking for a book to while away those boring Tube journeys, when I chanced across a copy of this novel. I opened the book and read the first few pages. Although "English Passengers" has something of a slow start plot-wise, I was nevertheless hooked by Matthew Kneale's superb writing - and decided to give this book a whirl. I was very glad I did.
The novel is essentially two parallel stories. One is of several English passengers aboard a Manx smuggling ship, bound for Tasmania, in search of the Biblical Garden of Eden. The other is of a Tasmanian Aborigine named Peevay, who has been born as the result of his mother's rape by a white man. These characters eventually cross paths (leading to a truly gripping finale), but along the way we learn a lot more about all of them, as well as about the history of Tasmania.
This novel is really quite brilliant. Kneale employs the tactic of having many different narrators tell the story, each from their own viewpoint. Every voice he uses - white, black, male, female, English, Tasmanian - is utterly convincing, and despite all these different storytellers, the novel doesn't become confusing or disordered, as you might expect - it is compelling stuff throughout. And it's not simply entertainment - this tale will get you thinking. It's been a long time since I have seriously thought about a book when not reading it; I found my thoughts kept going back to this novel and its characters - what would happen next, how it would end, not to mention the issues it raises.
On one of those Tube journeys I try to while away with fiction, a totally random guy started telling me, and his girlfriend who was sitting next to him, what a great book it was I was reading, and how it was one of his favourites. "English Passengers" is now one of my favourite novels, too. It's not only the best book I have read in quite some time, but probably one of the best I have ever read. This is not the kind of novel which has a good style but a boring plot, or which has some great writing but a few sections that are boring and difficult to get through - it has a great, brilliantly original storyline, and convincing and intriguing characters, and is superb throughout. There are some great touches of humour as well as some genuinely moving moments.
I really cannot recommend this novel highly enough - it is, quite simply, outstanding.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and funny, 23 Sep 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: English Passengers (Paperback)
English Passengers is one of the best books I've read in a while. Told through the eyes of it's various protagonists, it combines adventure and slapstick on the one hand and high drama on the other. The acute and shameful ignorance of the English settlers in nineteenth century Austrailia is highlighted in the journals of Dr Potter, a racial theorist, and his arch enemy the Reverend Wilson, who is convinced that he's on a divine mission to locate the Garden of Eden. They unwittingly charter a crew of amateur smugglers in order to reach Tasmania, which turns out not to be the Utopia they'd imagined, but a desolate, brutalised colony in which almost the entire native population has been wiped out. Peevay, an aborigine whose mother was kipnapped and raped by an escaped convict, charts the decline of his people with stoicism and compassion, that is, until Dr Potter's experiments drive him to seek revenge.
This is a beautifully observed book that races along at cracking pace. Its highly entertaining and thought-provoking. Safe to say, everyone gets their just desserts. I highly recommend it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a book that certainly deserved to win the Whitbread!, 17 May 2001
This review is from: English Passengers (Paperback)
There has been some superb contemporary fiction published in the last year, but English Passengers is by far the best. Matthew Kneale manages to capture and portray the collosal arrogance that was British Imperialism without using any omniscient authorial interference. Instead, his English characters hang themselves with every word they utter in a clever use of irony and the first person narrative. The chapter were Reverend Wilson writes that he is 'as suited to this outdoors life as any native aborigine' and then goes on to describe how he is waited upon hand and foot down to other people washing the pots and packing the tents, is especially funny.
The portrayl of British arrogance is not, by any means, the only striking thing about this book, but it is what caught my attention and made me laugh the most, perhaps because you can still see it today, especially in the present political climate. I would recommend this book to anyone. Read it, you won't be disappointed.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent polemic, 11 Feb 2003
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This review is from: English Passengers (Paperback)
This magnificent ensemble piece, crafted beautifully by Matthew Kneale, tells the tale of a desperate clergyman attempting to prove the existence of the Garden of Eden (and, by implication, the central proposition of his own religious belief) in the face of an ever more secular society. In order to execute this doomed adventure he enlists the assistance of the incredible Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley along with his ragamuffin crew and duplicitous ship: Sincerity. Along for the ride is the Reverend's bigoted friend and surgeon, Dr Potter, who is seeking to prove his theory on the superiority of the Saxon race. Awaiting the arrival of this crew of half-wits, liars and thieves is the unwitting Peevay, whose life is about to be turned upside down and who will serve as a metaphor for the destruction wrought on foreign lands by the English's relentless Empire building.
The most charming element of this novel is in the characterization. Kneale tells the tale skillfully through the first-person narrative of each of his main characters, allowing the peculiarities of their personality to come out. The Captain steals the show, with his determined stoicism and dislike of the English; indeed, all of the Manx crew are wicked delights. The Reverend's piety is the foil to the Captain's cynicism and his perpetual dithering and hand-wringing does little to endear him to his companions.
This is a romp across the high-seas which leaves the taste of salt water in the mouth and a yearning for weevil biscuits. Although it is great fun it is also a historical polemic, however, the reader never feels subjected to sermonizing because the message is delivered so subtly, wrapped in humor.
I was moved to read this novel when it beat Zadie Smith's 'Whit Teeth' to the Whitbread prize; I couldn't believe that a bolder, better and funnier novel could have been written that year, but I was wrong. Although I loved 'White Teeth' the judges got it right: Mathew Kneale deserves his victory for this masterpiece.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Different, surprising, excellent, 28 Oct 2001
By 
R. G. Mabbitt (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: English Passengers (Paperback)
An amazing achievement. Kneale has produced a wonderful book. Full of surprises, it entwines humour with pathos and historical facts. The voices are caricatures of Victorians which one reviewer suggests is a negative apsect, but that is what makes the characters so interesting. A caricature highlights the facets of character that set individuals apart from one another. My only criticism is that I kept wanting to look at maps of where this was taking place, and I don't carry atlases when I travel. That's the only reason I didn't give it 5 stars.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Spirit of Empire in all its ugly glory, 12 Feb 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: English Passengers (Paperback)
Through Dr. Thomas Potter's repellent and unscientific racial theories and the Rev. Geoffrey Wilson's proud and self-centred Christianity, the ugly spirit of imperialism is illustrated with sharp and deadly irony in Matthew Kneale's fine novel. While the petty feuds that thrive in the British expatriate community are neatly reflected in the lives of the aborigines, the disastrously misguided forces of "civilization" prove to be the most destructive influences in action as the British pioneers use the weapons of violence, ignorance and religion to subjugate and destroy the native population.
Superbly written, Kneales' novel entertains even more than it informs. I'd recommend this book heartily to anybody.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing read, 20 Dec 2002
By 
Mr. D. H. Mills (GREAT YARMOUTH, NORFOLK United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: English Passengers (Paperback)
The main reason I decided to read this book was because it was a Whitbread Book of the Year and I have had a lot of enjoyment from reading previous Whitbread titles. I was not disappointed. This was an engrossing read from the start, although the constant jumping from one character's narrative to another and from one year to another takes a bit of getting used to.
I particularly liked the richness of the characters, some of whom could have come out of a Dickens novel, ranging from the sly smuggler Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley,who is frustruated at every turn in his attempts to get rid of a cargo of contraband goods, to the deluded and pompous Reverend Geoffrey Wilson who sets out on a bizarre trip to the island of Tasmania, convinced that the real Garden of Eden is to be found there. Throw in the arrogant and ruthless Dr Potter, who is writing a book about how race affects the behaviour of human beings which in modern times would have been denounced as Nazi propaganda, and the half-caste aborigine, Peevay, whose life story is littered with tales of rejection and loss of freedom, and you have all the ingredients of a classic book which is well worthy of it's Whitbread crown.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A complex and highly entertaining read, 13 Nov 2002
This review is from: English Passengers (Paperback)
This book has such an unusual plot that you have to read it to see if anyone could possibly create a work of fiction out of it. Not only does the author succeed admirably, he creates a cast of characters so varied that no one could get bored. The native characters from Tasmania are extremely well drawn and rewarding. It is truly a remarkable achievement that the author is able to make the reader feel completely at one with such an alien culture. He rises above the cultural and physical situation of the people to make us all recognise the common humanity we share and the cruelty that can be brought about by indifference to that fact.
In addition he has created a wonderfully funny situation in the central 'search' of the book, but even this turns to tragedy in the end. It made me laugh, it made me cry and it probably invoked every other emotion in between.
One of the most comprehensive and fascinating tales I have ever read. Thoroughly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful, picaresque adventure--and hard-edged tragedy., 14 Sep 2005
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: English Passengers (Paperback)
Nominated for the Booker Prize in 2000, English Passengers is, on the surface, a picaresque adventure of sailors going to Tasmania, but it is also the vivid, sorrowful drama of the extermination of the aborigines there. With a cast of characters engaged in all manner of mischief during their voyage from the Isle of Man to Tasmania, this engaging and thoughtful novel uses nineteen different voices, four of them major characters, incorporating personal memoirs and/or letters which provide depth and interest. Through the wide variety of characters and their attitudes and beliefs, the seemingly incompatible plot lines, both comic and tragic, come to life and provide focus for the ship's meanderings.
Illiam Quillian Kewley, the irrepressible ship captain from the Isle of Man, is always just a heartbeat away from apprehension by authorities. Rev. Geoffrey Wilson, his Bible-thumping passenger, believes that a literal interpretation of Genesis puts the Garden of Eden in Tasmania, and he's about to prove it. Dr. Thomas Potter, another passenger, is a phlebotomist who believes that his own success is proof of his high position on the chain of being, with the Manx crewmen far below him, and the aborigines just a step up from the apes. Peevay, a minimally educated aborigine with whom the reader greatly identifies, is a foil to show how the tunnel-visioned, British colonial/missionary spirit produces everything but "improvement" for the aborigines. The story and setting are further fleshed out with entries from Tasmanian colonial governors, landowners, schoolmasters, prison inspectors, prison superintendents, and their wives.
As the characters come alive, interact, brawl, and otherwise reveal the colonial and philosophical attitudes of their day, the novel's broad scope and action are alternately very dramatic and very funny. Finely constructed and thoroughly enjoyable, the journey and explorations around the island would have been easier to visualize if the publishers had included a map of Tasmania. Not a book to be read in dribs and drabs, this book benefits from being read in big chunks to keep the action and all the characters in focus and to allow the scenes to develop fully in all their humor and drama. Also recommended for those who are interested in Tasmania: Peter Conrad's Behind the Mountain: Return to Tasmania (ISBN 0671705733), a stunning memoir and excellent source of information about the island, including maps. Mary Whipple
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English Passengers by Matthew Kneale
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