Monday, July 03, 2006

Book Review: "English Passengers"

I saved a copy of Matthew Kneale's English Passengers from bargain-cart purgatory at the shop last week and brought it home with me to read as one of my "T-books" (that is, paperbacks, generally fiction, that accompany me on my jaunts about Boston). Typically I try and keep those in my bag when I'm at home so I'm not tempted to read them except when traveling - with this book, however, I quickly gave up that charade and succumbed to its siren's song.

Kneale has created something little short of a masterpiece with this work. His method of structure is superb (telling the story from many different first-person perspectives, each with their own unique voice), and his knack for language is simply brilliant. The development of each character is handled with a deftness for which I can think of no apt comparison. From Manx captain Illiam Quillian Kewley of the Sincerity to the Tasmanian aborigine Peevay to the deluded vicar Geoffrey Wilson and the twisted Dr. Thomas Potter, Kneale brings so much life to his pages that it is nearly impossible to feel for the characters (whether that feeling be respect, hatred or compassion) as the narrative proceeds.

This book was a finalist for the Booker Prize and has won several other awards, all well deserved. It is a fantastic yarn from stem to stern, filled with tension, humor, and all the ironies of human interaction. I cannot recommend it more highly.