English Passengers

by Matthew Kneale | Literature & Fiction |
ISBN: Global Overview for this book
Registered by bookspook on 1/13/2004
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5 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by bookspook on Tuesday, January 13, 2004
It is 1857. Manxman Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley needs to get as far away from the Customs and Excise as he can; the Revd Geoffrey Wilson hopes to find the original site of the Garden of Eden in Tasmania; Dr Potter hopes to prove his horrible racial theories; Peevay tries to find a way to prevent the destruction of his people. These agendas clash with each other and with those of the Tasmanians - the corrupt colonials, the last few natives and the brutalised convicts.
Funny and tragic. Multiple narrators are skillfully handled with notes and glossary of the Manx language. See www.randomhouse.com/boldtype/0400/kneale/ for more info.

Released on Tuesday, January 13, 2004 at Cittie of Yorke pub, 22 High Holborn Rd in London-Holborn, England United Kingdom.

BX meet-up tonight

Journal Entry 3 by YowlYY on Friday, January 16, 2004
My apologies for the belated journal entry! I picked it up at the Cittie of Yorke during the official meetup, as it was left behind in the pub, and couldn't stand the thought of a book left alone! I am not sure if I will read it, as I have a huge TBR pile (a bookshelf!) at the moment, but if not I will release it somewhere or send it to someone who may enjoy it...

Journal Entry 4 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Saturday, January 17, 2004
Picked up at the unofficial meet-up. This has been recommmended to me several times in the past, so about time I read it...

Journal Entry 5 by BookGroupMan from Criccieth, Wales United Kingdom on Monday, April 11, 2005
A Whitbread winner and Booker shortlistee, so I don’t need to sing the praises of this book.

The ‘English Passengers’ are a country vicar and amateur geologist, a mad racist surgeon and a botanist (who’s just along for the ride!) who, in 1857, travel to Tasmania in a Manx-crewed ship to look for the site of the Garden of Eden; well at least that’s what the Reverend Geoffrey Wilson thinks they are doing. There are other agendas though, both professional and personal, that cause all sorts of distractions, diversions and farce.

In the complicated way of such 'modern' books, EP also has a separate plotline, starting some 30 years earlier about the Tasmania Aborigines, particularly the half-caste 'Cromwell' Peevay, as they come into contact with the white settlers to their world. Of course the 2 (many!) stories come together in the end.

What Kneale does brilliantly is juggle all sorts of aspects of history, cultural diversity & conflict and a world of ideas into a single coherent story. However, for all the obvious erudition and thorough research, the whole thing only just manages to hang together for me, maybe a case of over-egging the pudding a bit, at 450+ pages it’s quite a challenge.

Thanks to bookspook and yowlyy for getting this book to me. I have an idea to send it on to satisfy a wish...if that's OK?

Journal Entry 6 by BookGroupMan at on Friday, May 13, 2005

Released 14 yrs ago (5/14/2005 UTC) at



Pre-release for tomorrow's Ipswich meet-up

(25/05) Correction. Sent as wish-fulfilment to Canada, BC, with a stop-over in Ontario :)

Journal Entry 7 by crazy-book-lady from Toronto, Ontario Canada on Tuesday, May 31, 2005
This book is only making a short stop with me before continuing on to goatgrrl in BC. Luckily, two days ago I finished reading the other book that is destined for her! Will get them in the mail in the next couple of days.

Journal Entry 8 by crazy-book-lady from Toronto, Ontario Canada on Monday, June 06, 2005
This book has now started on the second leg of its journey. It is on its way to New Westminster, British Columbia, to visit goatgrrl. Happy traveling!

Journal Entry 9 by goatgrrl from New Westminster, British Columbia Canada on Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Thank you, thank you BookGroupMan and crazy-book-lady :^). This arrived yesterday as part of a wonderful package from Toronto (and, I see, from Woodbridge-via-Toronto!). I'm struggling through a very mediocre "Oprah's pick" at the moment (another RABCK, so I won't carry on about it too much). I've put both English Passengers and The Industry of Souls on my bedside table as a kind of inducement to soldier on with the Oprah book. (Must ... keep ... reading ...). Anyway. You are both such generous souls - thanks so much.

Journal Entry 10 by goatgrrl from New Westminster, British Columbia Canada on Wednesday, June 22, 2005
I'm just starting this book, and really looking forward to it - thanks again, BookGroupMan :^). Ironically, I just finished William Golding's Rites of Passage, the story of an 1815 voyage from England to Australia by a would-be civil servant, a parson and assorted hangers-on. I'll post more here (likely by editing this journal entry) when I've finished the book. Best wishes to all.

Journal Entry 11 by goatgrrl from New Westminster, British Columbia Canada on Sunday, June 26, 2005
I'm not usually a reader of seafaring tales, and I'll confess I felt some ambivalence several weeks ago when I realized not one but two had ascended to the top of my TBR pile (see previous journal entry). So I was delighted to discover, not twenty pages into English Passengers, that while most of the early action in the book takes place on a 19th century smuggling vessel, the novel's scope, breadth and insight made that irrelevant. I really loved this book. I loved the author's evident fascination with language (how we learn it, how we use it, how it changes), and I was deeply impressed by his ability to keep a great yarn afloat despite the weighty rigging of imperialism, racism and genocide. I also found Kneale hit exactly the right humorous note in his writing (like combining Shakespearean phrases and Tasmanian gutter slang in the imagining of Peevay's vocabulary, or pointing out that most Manx aphorisms involve herring).

It must be desperately difficult to find the right balance of acuity, truth, understanding and empathy in writing about 19th century Anglo-European (mis)treatment of indigenous people. It's such a grim tale and the truth (which much of English Passengers reflects) is so bloody awful. We want to distance ourselves from the mindset of the colonials who "settled" places like Tasmania (or AUS, NZ, USA, Canada, etc.), though they were ancestors to many of us. (Another BookCrosser writing a journal entry for a different copy of this book noted that her ancestors were early colonial Tasmanians, and expressed the hope that "they didn't mistreat the aborigines in this way".) We modern colonials have much to come to grips with, and a novel which captures the moral complexity of our histories in so vivid and accessible a way makes a great contribution to that enterprise. All of which is why I'll remember English Passengers as not just a great read, but a Great Book as well.

You can read Salon's review of English Passengers here, and a Guardian "digested read" of the novel (spoiler alert!) here. The picture at top left is an 1866 - 1876 portrait of "Queen Truganini", until recently said to be the last living aboriginal Tasmanian (she died at Oyster Cove, south of Hobart, in 1876). A strong Aboriginal movement has grown up in Tasmania in the last twenty-five years, with over six thousand descendants proclaiming their heritage and claiming land rights.

Journal Entry 12 by goatgrrl from New Westminster, British Columbia Canada on Tuesday, June 28, 2005
I've passed English Passengers along to my friend Gerry, since we just chatted about a class he'll be teaching in the fall on comparative Aboriginal politics (Canada, AUS and NZ). No doubt the book will find its way into someone else's hands when Gerry's done with it.

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