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3.92  ·  Rating details ·  305 ratings  ·  38 reviews
The year 1289. A rich farmer fears he'll go to hell for cheating his neighbours. His wife wants pilgrim badges to sew into her hat and show off at church. A poor, ragged villager is convinced his beloved cat is suffering in the fires of purgatory and must be rescued. A mother is convinced her son's dangerous illness is punishment for her own adultery and seeks forgiveness ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published June 4th 2020 by Atlantic Books
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Average rating 3.92  · 
Rating details
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May 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
It is 1289 and the idea of pilgrimage as a form of seekeing pardon for sins or asking for grace is in full bloom. A group consisting of pilgrims of all different walks of life decide to undertake the terrific effort to walk all the way from England and Wales to Rome. Different social status, different age, different reasons behind the pilgrimage, but one aim: to pray in Rome and to seek ways that might solve their problems.
We meet each pilgrim, learn about their life, their troubles, their secre
This the second novel I’ve read by the author, the other being “English Passengers”. I’d liked that a lot even if the premise stretched my credulity a bit. “Pilgrims” was a hugely entertaining read that I got through in no time. We follow a group of English people (plus one Welshman) making their way to Rome in the year 1289, and the journey is told through the shifting perspective of seven of the pilgrims. There are others in the party as well, but they are only viewed from the perspective of t ...more
May 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
I always enjoy Matthew Kneale’s historical fiction and this is no exception. We join a pilgrimage from England to Rome in the late 13th century. Individual pilgrims relate their back stories and take us through a section of the journey. These range from Tom, Son of Tom (a simpleton) to Matilda Froome (a religious hysteric) to Lady Lucy, a nymphomaniac from Lincolnshire. There were many laugh out loud moments - reader alert: sense of humour is a very particular thing so I’m not suggesting everyon ...more
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Oct 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020

I asked Father Will about the way and he said I’d have to go across the sea, which I’d never set eyes on and couldn’t imagine except that it must be like our pond but going on forever. Then I’d have to go through foreign lands where nobody spoke a word I’d understand. And I’d have to climb mountains that where so high they reached halfway to God’s kingdom. All the while with every mile I might be set upon by robbers and murderers. But God would help me, Father Will said, as he loved pilgr
Nov 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Pilgrims, by Matthew Kneale, follows a group of thirteenth-century individuals as they make their way from England (and in one case Wales) to Rome, and back. The year is 1289; Edward I is on the throne, bashing the Welsh, planning no good for the Jews to whom he owes money.

The novel is narrated by several different pilgrims, but unlike with Chaucer’s characters, the stories they tell are entirely their own – describing their background, the reasons why they have decided to make the long journey,
Kate Vane
May 15, 2020 rated it liked it
In Pilgrims, an assortment of medieval characters set off to Rome. They come from a range of backgrounds and have wildly different motivations. They also have varying degrees of guile and gullibility, which is communicated through their first-person narrations. There are two Jewish women, trying to pass as Christians as they fear for their lives, a man who mourns his dead cat, a professional pilgrim who travels on behalf of others too busy to make the journey themselves, a woman who just wants t ...more
Alex Sarll
Matthew Kneale is the son of Nigel Kneale and Judith Kerr; quite a pedigree, to have Quatermass and Mog as siblings, but not something I knew when I read his English Passengers years back. And despite enjoying that greatly, I've not read anything of his since, until this – which could almost be called English Passengers too – popped up on Netgalley. The setting is again historical, but this time further back, not the 19th century but the 13th. The characters, a group of pilgrims en route to Rome ...more
Oct 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I cannot recommend it too highly. It really is hard to put down, with a most engaging account of the journey of a motley party of English pilgrims to Rome in the year 1289.

Chaucer's pilgrims told each other stories, many of which - at least to contemporary readers - provide a commentary on the manners and morals of the times. Kneale's pilgrims, progressively revealing their personal histories as they travel, perform the same function with a good deal of wry humour. The characters, particularly s
Keith Currie
Jun 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
On the road to Rome

Matthew Kneale’s Pilgrims is a thoroughly entertaining novel, witty and humorous with a seasoning of pathos and genuine sadness.

A disparate group of medieval pilgrims make their way across England and Europe on the well-trodden pilgrim route to Rome. All the pilgrims have their back stories; almost all are religious, or at least superstitious; all are flawed individuals, some more sinful (or simply human) than others – a mixture of the piously gullible and piously fraudulent.
Jan 20, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2021
Jolly, with an emotional payoff at the end from the pain that's been brewing underneath. Easy read. Shadows of Corbynism.* (*real or imaginary) Trigger warnings: antisemitism, some learning disabled & mental illness representations. Fine with me but saying. First readable book in a year. ...more
Stephen King
Nov 28, 2020 rated it it was ok
I like a good historical novel. From James Meek’s ‘To Calais in ordinary time’ to Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy, I can lose myself in the tales of ordinary historical folk. This novel however isn’t one.

Set in the late thirteenth century, it follows a group of pilgrims drawn from different parts of England as they proceed to Rome to seek absolution or to avoid purgatory. It’s more ‘Carry on Pilgrim’ and pales in comparison to the titans mentioned above. The tales (yes, the Chaucerian conceit
Jun 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fascinating look at pilgrims traveling to Rome during medieval times. I wasn't sure how it was going to hold together since each chapter seemed like a different story, but it had a very satisfying ending. ...more
Pilgrims follows a diverse cast of characters on a pilgrimage to St. Peter’s in Rome in 1289. Some are hoping for absolution of sins (most of the cardinal sins get a tick) while others have different reasons for making the journey. A noblewoman is looking to obtain a divorce from her husband and remarry, a woman and a girl are both driven to Rome claiming God and Jesus speak to them directly, a young serf fears his cat is languishing in purgatory and wishes to save its soul while another man mak ...more
Apr 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Here is another of Matthew Kneale's excellent novels with a historical setting and a number of different narrators. This time it's about a 14th century pilgrimage to Rome, and a strange group of characters who band together along the way, mainly for the comparative safety brought by travelling in a group on what proves to be a dangerous journey. It's also very funny, as the characters are just as colourful as in Chaucer, and not as pious as their noble venture would seem to imply. Perhaps the ch ...more
Jul 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
With echoes of Chaucer and his own multi-voiced novel, English Passengers, Matthew Kneale’s Pilgrims is an immensely satisfying tour through thirteenth century Europe and a fascinating window into the medieval mind. Following a mixed bag of pilgrims on a journey to Rome in 1289, Kneale’s book is an engrossing and very human story of time, place and character. There’s humour, mystery, adventure and redemption, and the pace of the storytelling never flags. For all its adventure and intrigue though ...more
Patsy Collins
Feb 06, 2021 rated it did not like it
At first I thought I was going to enjoy this. I like historical fiction and the situation and characterisation are interesting. But it just never got going. Chapter one is set 25 years before the rest and two thirds in I'm yet to meet those characters again, nor see how they're connected with the rest of the story – or perhaps I should say stories.

Almost every chapter introduces a new point of view character and instead of the story moving forward the reader is thrown back into that character's
David Cutler
Apr 04, 2021 rated it liked it
I found Pilgrims a real curate’s egg.

Their are good things about. Kneale tackles the tricky issue of how to find the write language for the period successfully with just enough contemporary phrases to stop you for a moment. There are very good comic scenes and in general he does comedy well, the most difficult thing. There are some very good characters with Dame Lucy giving the Wife of Bath a run for her money.

And yet and yet. This pilgrimage felt like a bit more of a slog than it should do. I t
Aug 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
A future vision of the UK post-brexit. Oh no - my mistake - a vivid historical insight into the superstitious medieval mindset as we follow a disparate misfit-bunch of smelly, gullible, hypocritical folk as they wend their way on a pilgrimage towards Rome, steadfastly refusing to gabble in foreign tongues or eat that-there foreign muck. Hang on, maybe it is speculative future fiction rather than historical fiction. I'm so confused. Chaucerian in lineage if not in stature (!), but a wonderful fun ...more
Marilyn Stanley
Mar 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Set in the 13th century this follows a group of pilgrims travelling to Rome. Told from multiple viewpoints each recounts their story and the journey. A cross between Kneale's previous book English Passengers and Chaucer 's Canterbury Tales this is a joyous fantastical journey. Kneale's gets into the mindset of the medieval world. A world in which God is a part of the everyday and going on pilgrimage an acceptable way to atone for one's sins and gain less time in purgatory. Kneale also reminds us ...more
Jane Fudger
Mar 31, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: patricia
I really enjoyed this book so I spent the whole day reading it. Starting in 1289 this follows a number of characters of differing social status going on a pilgrimage to Rome to repent various sins they had committed. Each character is given a chance to air their story, all of which are believable and sensitively written
The book has similarities to The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer but the group in this book are more interactive with each other and there are less middle English words in use and t
Anne Goodwin
Jun 03, 2020 rated it really liked it

With seven different viewpoints, and lengthy backstories, Pilgrims is less a novel than a collection of closely-linked short stories. I struggled in places to keep track of the multiple characters, but found it overall an entertaining and satisfying read.

Full review:
Faith, fate and freedom: Pilgrims & The Yogini
Frank Smyth
Aug 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful evocation of the medieval world and of its "spirituality"

I knew about medieval Church theology and spirituality, but this book clearly shows how it was expressed in practice in the !Ives of ordinary peop!e.The range of characters also gives a very broad insight into how the medieval society worked. Hard to believe that Mr Kneale has "relatively recently come to the study of the medieval period". A joy to read.
Asha Stark
This was SO enjoyable, I couldn't put it down!
At the start, I thought I was going to have a terrible time because I bonded with Tom so deeply (bonding with fictional characters is not something I'm used to!) and I was terrified things were going to go badly for him, but -possible spoiler ahead- he had a very, very happy ending.

There's an author's note at the end saying Kneale is new to the Middle Ages and I cannot stress enough how impressive this book is in that light.
Anne Taylor
Apr 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
'English Passengers' by the same author is my favourite novel of all time. So the bar was set unreasonably high. Despite not reaching those heights, this was still an enjoyable read. The moments of humour are offset with the darkness of anti-Semitism, so the blurb about it being 'uproariously funny' is only partially true as it is also very thought-provoking. As a veiled warning about post-Brexit Britain, it succeeds very well. ...more
May 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It was a fascinating readI loved, engrossing and entertaining.
The quirky cast of characters is fascinating and they are fleshed out, the historical background is well researched and vivid, the story is well plotted and flows.
It was an excellent read, highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
Trevor Kenning
Jul 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Very enjoyable. A picture of the Medieval English society. People not so different. Tempting to make a reference to The Canterbury Tales, but this book is the stories of the pilgrims. Fascinating insight into Welsh history and also the Isle of Thanet when it was an island
Aug 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: medieval
I’ve not actually read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales but I think this book reflects it in that each of the main characters has his/her own chapter in which to speak.
They are great characters, especially as most of them are completely blind to their own faults.

Good fun.
Dec 07, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good novel

This is a well written novel, which at times carries the reader back in history. The device of varying the narrator is effective, and keeps the story interesting. On the other hand, the plot sometimes seems too contrived and unrealistic.
Deb Lancaster
Feb 06, 2021 rated it liked it
This was fine. It was enjoyable enough. But it wasn't what I was hoping for. So much repetious language grated. There's only so many uses of the word comely I can take. Liked it enough though. Bit trite at the end. ...more
Mar 25, 2021 rated it really liked it
A wonderfully-written book about a group of pilgrims who head to Rome in the late 1200s. As a reader, we get treated to multiple points of view, some medieval language (but not so much that we get fed up) and a great storyline.
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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 writers Nigel Kneale and Judith Kerr, and the grandson of essayist and theatre critic Alfred Kerr.

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