Sunday, 4 January 2009

Poinsettia and English Passengers


I was given this poinsettia four weeks ago, so it's doing well despite my neglect over Christmas. In Thailand they grew wild in the north, I remember.


Have just finished reading English Passengers, phew. I tried once before but gave up. This time I am glad I persevered. Here’s a blurb.
“In 1857 circumstances force seaman Captain Kewley and his band of smugglers from the Isle of Man to carry two eccentric English passengers to Australia: The obsessed Rev Wilson believes the Garden of Eden was on the island of Tasmania. His travelling partner and rival, Dr. Potter, is secretly developing a sinister thesis about the races of men.
Meanwhile, an aboriginal in Tasmania named Peevay recounts his people’s struggles against the invading British. These characters and many others come together in a storm of voices, including those of the convicts, their jailors and the colonial governors.”
This is is a remarkable tour de force, a meticulously researched and interesting novel, but hard work to read because of the numerous (20?) narrators. I liked Capt Kewleydidn’t realise that Manxmen considered themselves a different nationality from the dastardly English. I knew the outlines of the grim story of the Tasmanian aboriginals, but had no idea how their extinction came about, so that was informative too. All in all, a shameful episode in British colonialism.
Many of the numerous minor characters only appear briefly (just a page) to tell an episode of the story, so you don’t become involved with the characters themselves, apart from the dishonest but appealing Kewley and poor Peevay. I have to confess I skipped some of the Rev Wilson’s ranting but you can’t skip much or you lose your way – as the explorers did in central Tasmania (which is much bigger than I thought, the same size as Sri Lanka.)
I’d say this long novel is only suitable for serious dedicated reading groups, because it is pretty heavy going to start with. Not a page turner - I was able to put it down 20 pages before the end - but, finally, well worth the effort.

4 comments:

liz fenwick said...

One I definately won't attempt as I don't have much staying power with long books at the moment!

lx

JJ said...

Oh Lord! That totally explains it. Our building puts sooo many poinsettias out inside and outside and I remarked to the family how much it must cost ... but they're native. Thank you for explaining that one!

Jan Jones said...

I rescued a sell-by-this-minute poinsettia from Waitrose this year for 99p. That was about 4 weeks ago and it's still going strong - just like yours!

Ms Mac said...

I do love a Poinsettia, they're such a pretty colour.

I have a copy of English Passengers here, funnily enough. I've never even been tempted to read the blurb on it, never mind get any further.