English Passengers by Matthew Kneale

English Passengers by Matthew Kneale

This is one exciting adventure with an assortment of odd characters all headed to Van Dieman’s Island. Now, to properly enjoy this tale of exploration, you should have a some grasp of the history of Deportation, and the geography of Tasmania.

Often the book descriptions on GoodReads are trash, but this one is quite a good summary of why this novel is great:

In 1857 when Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley and his band of rum smugglers from the Isle of Man have most of their contraband confiscated by British Customs, they are forced to put their ship up for charter. The only takers are two eccentric Englishmen who want to embark for the other side of the globe. The Reverend Geoffrey Wilson believes the Garden of Eden was on the island of Tasmania. His traveling partner, Dr. Thomas Potter, unbeknownst to Wilson, is developing a sinister thesis about the races of men.

Meanwhile, an aboriginal in Tasmania named Peevay recounts his people’s struggles against the invading British, a story that begins in 1824, moves into the present with approach of the English passengers in 1857, and extends into the future in 1870. These characters and many others come together in a storm of voices that vividly bring a past age to life.

This story is told in bits and pieces, and narrated by different characters. It jumps from the current adventure to Van Dieman’s Island, and the aboriginal story about Peevay from the 20-30 years earlier. Of course, these stories catch up to each other later on in the book, and you can see.

I loved the humour in this book. The sailors from the Isle of Man and their mannerisms, with their smuggling adventures was great. I liked how pompous the priest was and how he butted heads with the doctor. The ending was absolutely splendid. I couldn’t put the book down for the last 100 pages as I just had to see how it all turned out.

This story is a fictional story, but it incorporates a lot of historical facts into the narrative. If you really want to learn about Austrailia, and Van Dieman’s Island (renamed Tasmania), then you absolutely need to read, ““The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia’s Founding””.

Rating: ★★★★★

Book #27 in my #ReadingChallenge2021

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