English Passengers by Matthew Kneale is a brilliant seafaring romp set in the 19th century that is intelligent, witty and thought-provoking.
Told through the eyes of more than 20 diverse characters, it is never dull or confusing. Instead, it plunges the reader into a wonderful boys’ own adventure tale turned comical farce in which a Manx smuggling vessel inadvertently flees British Customs by sailing half way around the world to Australia. To make the journey legitimate the crew, headed by Captain Illiam Quillian Kewley, carry on board a small expedition team, comprising a spiritually crazed reverend, a sinister racial-theorist doctor and a wayward botanist, intent on finding the lost Garden of Eden in Tasmania.
Throw in a lot of historical truths about the settlement of Tasmania and subjugation of its native population coupled with lots of twists in the tale and you’re guaranteed a rollicking good read! I loved this book, and I still think it has one of the most satisfying conclusions I’ve ever read in modern fiction. A clever read for clever readers.