Saturday, 15 August 2009

English Passengers by Matthew Kneale

This excellent novel follows 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 the tragic fate of the aboriginal Tasmanian people, who have had their lands (their world) stolen from them. Quoting from sections narrated by Peevay, the main aboriginal character in the novel:

Truly it was a mystery to confuse how they could ever kill all my ones and steal the world, or even why they wanted it, as it was no place they could endure. Why, they couldn't live here just alone but had to carry some Hobart Town with them hither and thither.

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Weather was bright as I walked across the world for the last time, trees getting lovely with autumn, but I was mournful to think I was the final Palawa here, and after me there would just be white scuts or nobody. This never could be their place, I did divine. Yes they could go hither and thither, thinking it is mine now, but they never would feel it like my ones did. How could they when they didn't know anywhere's name or how it got there? [They] would never have this place deep inside their breasts, no. They would just be dwelling here.


This is a profoundly moving and tragic novel though written with a lightness of touch and much humour.

8 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Sounds a very moving book.
Some relatives of mine tavelled and worked there in the 19th century.
Probably some of the evil ones in the book......

steven said...

hi crafty green, isn't it so sad that so many places have stories of their aboriginal inhabitants lives being ruined by visitors. the irony now is that so much of their learnings are becoming a necessary common currency for the earth to return to something that is nominally healthy and supportive of human animal and plant life. i'm going to get my wife to look this one up at the library. thanks for the recommendation! steven

Rabbits' Guy said...

I am struck by how very similar are the words of the old timers who live here where I do, when they speak of the newcomers.

Paul said...

It is a beautifully written book and Matthew is the first non-Australian to be short listed for the prestigious Miles Franklin Award.

Catherine said...

I'm adding it to my reading list

Eryl Shields said...

I totally have to get this book, heading to Amazon right now! Thanks for the direction.

steven said...

so i got it from the library and begin reading tomorrow! thanks crafty green. steven

Anonymous said...

"[They] would never have this place deep inside their breasts, no. They would just be dwelling here."

Thank you for this review, with the quote you gave it was enough for me to go off and find a secondhand copy to purchase on line and now I look forward to reading it when it arrives.

D-W.