English Passengers

I got Matthew Kneale’s English Passengers in the mail from nanny60read and since it’s been on my tlf (to look for) list for a while, I thought I’d start it right away.

It actually lived up to my expectations, providing an enjoyable, but also thought-provoking tale. Most of the people inhabiting Kneale’s universe are pretty hard to like, actually, and still I feel it was woth getting to know them. And you do get to know them. The novel consists of fairly short chapters written «by» (from the point of view of) the characters themselves, I count 22 narrators in all. Captain Illiam Quilliam Kewley, besides having the most wonderful name, is also one of the more worthwhile aquaintances the book offers, his style is straightforward and matter-of-fact, but with some highly personal observances to spice it up. Peevay, the Tasmanian aborigine, recounts his people’s rather miserable story after the arrival of «the white man» in a wonderfully poetic (for lack of a better word) language, and therefore provides some of the most fascinating sequences in the book. Dr. Thomas Potter is a wonderful counterbalance to Peevay, espousing his horribly familiar theories of racial types in a rather enjoyable diary jargong.

An excerpt from Peevay:

So I began to understand rum. I did suppose it would make me feel happy, but no, this was never so. It made me feel NOTHING, and this was great good fortune, too, as NOTHING was just what I was seeking. By and by I got another and then another, as I was hungry to get all the NOTHING in the world. But then I learned this rum was more difficult than I knew, as suddenly I was dizzy and feeling crook, so I had to go away, legs leaning like I was on some ship, and white scuts laughing, and when I got outside I was sick and all my beautiful NOTHING was gone.

(The books bookcrossing page)