I’m gonna stop counting these book reviews….


So, I’m not great about this regular posting business.  But i’m trying.  I am.

In any case, here’s a great book you might wanna take a look at.

English Passengers.
By Matthew Kneale

I’m not usually a fan of first person narrative.  I think it’s over done and all too often the narrator isn’t insightful or interesting enough to carry me through a whole story. Just a personal preference.  But, English Passengers pretty much blew all that away.  It’s narrated by 20 different characters, each voice unique each character adding shades of meaning to the story.  Color me impressed. Which it should considering it was short listed for the Booker Prize and the Miles Franklin award, and won the 2000 Whitbread Book Award. Really, quite a nice find in the Random House give away pile.
Basic plot:
A crew of Manx-men set off on a simple smuggling mission, to carry brandy and tobacco to England and make some quick easy money. (I had no idea, but Manx was the language spoken on the Isle of Man. It’s a descendent of Old Irish and a dead relative of Irish and Scottish Gaelic.) They get stopped by the English customs and hauled into port.  The customs agents, unable to locate the cleverly stored goods hold the ship in port because of some nonsense fees. To get out of port the Captain agrees to carter their vessel to a small English expedition on their way to Austria.  The expedition includes a vicar who believes he will discover the Garden of Eden on the island of Tasmania, a respected doctor who is writing is masterpiece on the races of Man that will create a scientific foundation for racism and slavery.  This story plays out against the early history of Tasmania and Australia, including some flightily real descriptions of the prison camps and the mass genocide and relocation of the Aboriginal people.

The book is rich with details, and Matthew Kneale has done an incredible job crafting the voices of the different narrators (did I mention there are 20 of them!)  The Manx-Captain of the smuggling vessel is one of my favorite narrative voices.  His voice is rich with bits of Manx vocabulary and his story-telling style filled with sly humor.  And how doesn’t like a narrator with a health sense of irony and humor?  I’d also include the Vicar, who you can almost hear how shrill his voice must carry out across his flock of faithful.  His blind faith mixes perfectly with his own selfishness and greed.  Kneale highlight’s the Vicar’s hypocrisy through the vicar’s own voice, and as you read the Vicar’s account you see him progress from fervently faithful to full on fanatic.
I won’t say it’s been my favorite book of all time, but I’ll recommend it to anyone who enjoys good fiction.  It’s a great high seas adventure with more of a brain than your average adventure story.  Rich detail and lively first person narrators make the longish text easier to read.  I plan on keeping an eye out for other work by Kneale.


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