Kathy Ahn's Reviews > English Passengers

English Passengers by Matthew Kneale
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's review
Mar 29, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, reviewed
Read in October, 2007

My future husband recommended this book (being a sailor and lover of seafaring tales) and I loved it immediately. It's an easy read because it's funny and the characters are so engaging, but for all its slapstick humor, it's brutally critical of the British colonization of Australia and the treatment of both the prisoners and the Aborigines in the early to mid 19th century.

The main English characters comprise of a self absorbed and self righteous vicar, a racist doctor, and a lazy, unambitious, but well bred young man. The least significant of the English trio is the only English character in the novel that has any redeeming qualities. All the others you rather wish would just expire during the course of the story. In the end, they get what they justly deserve, but in the meantime, they are obnoxious, cruel, and obsessed with themselves, though they do carry the story along and you see much through their eyes (however inappropriately they've interpretted the events). The animosity between the doctor and the vicar is amusingly taken advantage of in the narrative.

The Aboriginals and the Manxmen are interesting and charming characters, even with their flaws. It is a beautifully written and charmingly funny novel about an ugly time in Australia's history during its formative years. Told by 20 different narrators, this is an interesting study in human nature -- how the same events are varyingly interpretted by different audiences with opposing objectives, how cruel men can be to other men, how cruel men can be to women, how a person's life passion can blind him to reason, and how hatred can last almost one's entire lifetime and never really be eased.

Many of the characters are based on historical people: Wayleric plays Tarenore, a fierce Aboriginal woman Amazon who could swear as well as any proper Englishman and knew how to use a gun, and was the fear of many men. Dr. Potter, the racist, is based on Robert Knox, author of The Races of Men.
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message 1: by Peter John (last edited Jul 29, 2010 01:15PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Peter John This book is also one of the best audiobooks I've ever heard. As it tells the story in diverse first person perspectives, different actors read the different parts, and it approaches the experience of listening to a radio drama.

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