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English Passengers

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  3,746 ratings  ·  355 reviews
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 isl ...more
Paperback, 446 pages
Published January 16th 2001 by Anchor (first published 2000)
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Community Reviews

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Say a man catches a bullet through his skull in somebody's war, so where's the beginning of that?

This perfectly fine question is posed by captain Illiam Quillian Kewley at the beginning of English Passengers. The year is 1857, and Kewley and his crew of Manx sailors only wished to transport some duty-free liquor from the Isle of Man - strategically located right in the middle of the Irish Sea - to mainland England, where the ruthless British Customs officials were waiting for them to do just tha
An excellently quirky, educational, thought-provoking, and often humourous book that avoids being confusing (despite multiple narrators) or off-putting when describing the more shocking aspects of the near extinction of Aborigines in Tasmania and the views of white supremacists. Even the potentially awkward mix of socio-political themes and jolly japes works.

(Not saying more than is on the back cover.)

It is set in the 1800s and opens with the crew of Sincerity from the Isle of Man, intent on
English Passengers is one of the best novels I have ever read. A story told by multiple narrators, it initially focuses on a Manx smuggling vessel which sets off for England only to get chartered to set sail to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) because some crazy reverend is convinced that Van Diemen's Land is the site of the Garden of Eden. Among the ship's many larger-than-life passengers are the reverend himself, a doctor with some rather alarming racial theories and a captain desperate to keep hi ...more
Mar 26, 2013 Judy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Around the worlders
Recommended to Judy by: Gene
Peevay's take: BOOK started wonderfully. BANG! Like Manx gun. All echoey bouncing off num WHITE MEN. Scuts!

Captain Illiam Killian Kewley's take: I came to the godforsaken island of Tasmania speaking my strange Manx tongue, with my Manx crew. If I could have found a way to weigh anchor with the slebby preacher, Reverend Geoffrey Wilson, his nemesis, the snurly Dr. Thomas Potter and the gorm, lazy bones, Timothy Renshaw attached, I would gladly have done so. But instead fate put us all together i
This is one of the few books that I have given up on reading. I had a strong sense of wrongness from many of the point of view (POV) characters and quickly began to skim read before skimming off the book all together.

By wrongness I mean that the POVs seemed to me to strike false notes: they didn't seem fictional enough to me. All novels are constructed things. Fiction is the deliberate choice of unreal elements to achieve the effect chosen by the author, but in this case it felt too obviously so
Tea Jovanović
Moderni klasik engleske književnosti... Uzgred, autor je bio oduševljen time kako se "po srpski" piše njegovo ime... Metju Nil... :)
This is a wonderfully original book. A mix of history, intrigue and human suffering this is a unique book with an accessible story that is nevertheless 'literary'.

We follow several threads of this story - first a vicar who is obsessed with finding the Garden of Eden in Tasmania. He finds a rich benefactor who funds an expedition to find the garden. Added to the expedition are a doctor with extreme racial views - concerning mental attainment, scientific experimentation etc - and a young man who i
The beginning of this book LIES. I love the opening character, Captain Illiam Quilliam Kewley. He is a fabulous, interesting, quirky guy who you want to curl up in front of a fire and spend time with. However... the problem is that he doesn't narrate more than a 1/4 of the book. Author LIAR LIAR PANTS ON FIRE tries to draw you in with this good-time guy and then slams you with Tasmanian "savages" in chapters written in an insane dialect that requires a good strong shot of bourbon to get through, ...more
Usha Alexander
This is one of the best books I've read in ages: resonant, entertaining, and affecting. At the first level of craft, Kneale's ability to make distinctive and authentic nearly every one of it's full chorus of voices is masterful. But it's more than that. The book's narrative follows two separate trajectories which intersect only briefly, towards the end of the book, and then again diverge; they could well have been two separate books. However, telling us these two stories in parallel brings us di ...more
A historical novel set in the 19th century, this novel tells the intertwined stories of a shipload of Manx bootleggers; an expedition to find the garden of Eden in Tasmania, led by a misguided, pompous parson, and including a sinister doctor whose theories on racial types motivate him; and the plight of the Tasmanian aborigines whom the English killed, corralled and “civilized,” focusing on one Peevay, a half-caste.

A superb, amazing adventure of a book: it’s hilarious at times, using a multi-nar
This novel is Dickensian in its scope of characters and is a masterful feat of the interweaving of satire with a tragic yet deftly handled historical portrait of the genocide of the aborigines of Tasmania. Kneale accomplishes this through a sea of narrators and clever use of journals, diaries and official reports. He does so alternating two distinct narratives following their own projectory before allowing them to converge ariving at a denouement which is sublime in how it metes out a fate which ...more
Jul 18, 2008 Smokinjbc rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone who loves good writing
Recommended to Smokinjbc by: Straight Dope members! THANKS
Shelves: booksthatrock
English Passengers by Matthew Kneale is a fast moving, incredible tale of a journey made by Manx smugglers who are forced to take boorish English passengers on an expedition to find the Garden of Eden in Tasmania. Each turn of the journey is characterized by bad luck, creative cursing and general head-butting on all accounts. The book features a different viewpoint every 5-10 pages,give or take, and you may find yourself cheating the cliffhangers to find out if a viewpoint you enjoy has met an u ...more
Olga Kowalska
A true, unforgettable wonder. A literary masterpiece with a great historic touch that brings the beginning of 19th century back to life. The age of collonialism, of conquer and dominance. Of great fight between faith and science. Of death and sorrow of smaller nations, tribes that should never had been discovered. Here is a sad story of Tasmania and its last call for independance. Mathhew Kenale's novel is rich, moving with many voices to hear.
Bill Keefe
I'm not sure how qualified I am to review a book beyond saying that I really liked it, adding perhaps a comparative, like, "I really liked it more than the great majority of books I've read in my life."

A wonderful story; well-defined characters you want to follow for a long time, a plot that moves along at a good pace and insight into a period of history and part of the world I knew little about. Not being able to predict the ending is a plus, though it's not a book where you're reading just to
The multiple-voice first-person narrative is difficult to pull off; shifting perspectives can destroy momentum, at the very least breaking up the rhythm. And if there aren't distinctive voices, the reader is left wondering: What was the point of this approach?

Matthew Kneale's "English Passengers" does have a bit of the herky-jerky to it, but, if you're going to take the narrative approach he does — if memory serves, there are more than 20 different narrators — it's hard to imagine it being done
Lots of glowing reviews from Goodreads friends got me excited to read English Passengers, and it didn't disappoint. This novel about an ill-fated expedition to search for the Garden of Eden in Tasmania takes the voice of many narrators, some contributing only a single chapter and a core handful returning several times. The characters we get to know best include a few great ones: Illiam Quillian Kewley is a Manx smuggler with a wry sense of humor and a philosophical attitude toward the many misha ...more
Juliet Wilson
This is an excellent novel, following an expedition to find the Garden of Eden in the unlikely location of Tasmania. The novel's many narratives are wound together beautifully so that the changing voices blend together seamlessly.

Its a novel of adventure, smuggling and attempted mutiny on the high seas, but also a novel of tragedy in the fate of the aboriginal Tasmanian people. Racism is shown to be entirely prevalent amongst all the expedition members, though we are shown this very clearly in
Mar 05, 2009 Leland rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those interested in Australia, or getting read to travel Down Under.
Wonderful reading! A very complex novel, told from many points of view. Characters, their language, experience, and perspective all weave together to portray the voyage of a Manx ship to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) to find Geological evidence of the Garden of Eden. Some of the most vivid descriptions of Tasmania I've ever read (and I've traveled the entire island quite thoroughly). From the prisoners of Port Arthur to the farms on the plain near Launceston, Kneale really captures the rugged, bi ...more
Tim Weed
English Passengers blends a funny and compulsively readable seafaring novel with a dark tale of the Tasmanian genocide. It’s an uneasy mix, I found. Whenever the story of Illiam Killian Kewley and his crew of Manxmen aboard the smuggling vessel Sincerity resumed, I felt a certain sense of relief. It wasn’t that the Tasmanian genocide threads weren’t well written — they were, quite, with sufficient tension and interesting, if not always very sympathetic characters. I guess it was that the subject ...more
Ubik 2.0
Babel on the rocks*

Il passeggero inglese (titolo chissà perché tradotto al singolare, rispetto al The English Passengers dell’originale ben più coerente con la trama …) è un romanzo bizzarro, ispirato dall’ambizioso proposito dell’autore di destreggiarsi contemporaneamente su vari livelli:
- una polifonia di voci di innumerevoli personaggi, tutti narranti in prima persona, espressione di svariate nazioni, popoli, religioni, addirittura razze;
- un complicato romanzo di avventure che va letteralmen
Tracey Mathias
wonderful book: amazing act of historical imagination, fantastically vivid characters and places; brlliant use of multiple voices. best thing I've read for a long time.
There are books dealing with historical fiction that are a joy to read and others that feel pretentious and manipulative. English Passengers falls somewhere between.
Loosely based on the development of Tasmania in the mid-nineteenth century, the novel is told from the point of view of several different narrators. Kneale manages to create distinct voices for all of the characters. The most enjoyable is certainly Peevay who, being half-aboriginal/half-white, has difficulty finding acceptance in eit
My favorite books have many beginnings. Desperate characters and stories that start out all over the place and then somehow through author magic come together. The English Passengers is like that. There are narrators a plenty, each telling their own and the group's story.

There's Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley, whose once great family has been declining in fame and money with each successive generation, and his crew trying to get ahead by smuggling cheap French brandy and tobacco. The Reverend W
Originally posted on the Motley Fool UK Bookclub board

I'll start off by saying that I enjoyed the book, and enjoyed the feeling of being part of the [Motley Fool UK] book club. I wouldn't have read this book otherwise.


I found the style of narration easier to follow than I expected. Then again, a multi-person narrative isn't uncommon in the fantasy genre which is where I'm usually to be found. Such narratives generally lead to a more-favoured and less-favoured but in the case of this boo
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I actually wasn't expecting anything from this book, it having lain around in piles at my bookstore for months with no interest shown in it. But it was a fantastic surprise to find that it was actually a very good book.
The multiple viewpoints could easily get confusing or excessive very quickly with a less skilled hand, but Kneale manages to give each character a unique and interesting voice, so that you can't imagine that little piece of the story being told by anyone else. Peevay's neat and p
Mar 19, 2012 Marlene rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in history, Austrailian history and tales of sea adventures
Recommended to Marlene by: goodreads recommendations, my friend Jacquie
This novel is about the many lives in the history of Austrailia and Tasmania during the period between 1820 - 1870. Underlying themes of the penal colonies, which brought the English to Austrailia in the first place, the tragic reality of the near extinction of the aboriginal people and the sorry attempt at civilizing the "savages" by the British played a strong role in bringing the historical elements to life. Used as a catalyst to bring the story together is the delightful tale of the charming ...more
Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley, Manxman at the helm of the Sincerity, has a problem. Although the Customs men failed to find the contraband hidden in the bowels of his ship, the fines they levied won’t be settled until said contraband finds its way to more lucrative shores. The solution? In the words of Captain Kewley, “I dare say I’d expected the Sincerity to see a few humiliations in her time – to be nibbled by barnacles, shat on by gulls, and poked and prodded by Customs men – but never, not ...more
An expedition from the British Isles to Tasmania to find the true site of the Garden of Eden...a ship secretly carrying smuggled goods with British Customs in pursuit...a battle of wits among an ineffective sea captain, an overly zealous minister, and a doctor with misguided racial ongoing conflict between the Tasmanian aboriginal people and the British slaveholder colonialists...all described by a variety of narrators each mostly clueless about what's really happening. Mix all thi ...more
Sep 23, 2011 Kim rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: just about everyone
Shelves: ebook, read-2011
My friend Sarah has this book on her "super-favorites" shelf and I had it marked on my "to-read" shelf for a couple of years. I'm glad I finally picked it up and wholeheartedly recommend it to just about everyone. It has broad appeal, for sure. In fact, I can't think of another book I've read this year that would rival its recommendability. It's expertly crafted, fun, and packed with history.

The short chapters rotate through perhaps two dozen narrators, all of whom have distinct points of view a
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Matthew Kneale was born in London in 1960, read Modern History at Oxford University and on graduating in 1982, spent a year teaching English in Japan, where he began writing short stories.
Kneale is the son of the writers Nigel Kneale and Judith Kerr.
Bibliography: Whore Banquets (1987), Inside Rose's Kingdom (1989), Sweet Thames (1992), English Passengers (2000), Small Crimes in an Age of Abundanc
More about Matthew Kneale...
When We Were Romans Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance Sweet Thames Mr. Foreigner An Atheist's History of Belief: Understanding Our Most Extraordinary Invention

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