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Monday, November 17th, 2003

I finished The English Passengers tonight -- what a dark book it is! I was moved to think about the meaning of the word "earnest" this afternoon, when I said to myself that this book was not (pejorative sneer) earnest in the way that The Life of Pi and The Corrections were -- this thought floated through my head complete with the sneer despite the fact that I had greatly enjoyed both those books, especially the latter -- what did I mean?

Kneale does not make such a point of evincing sympathy for his characters as does Franzen -- and indeed, few of the portrayals are sympathetic -- I would say the only ones that are, were Tim Renshaw, Captain Kewley and Peevay, and all with a great deal of ambiguity. So the sympathetic characterizations which I found so compelling in The Corrections -- and which were present in The Life of Pi as well -- are not a feature here. This is probably what I meant to get at with my pejorative use of the word "earnest"; the word is not very well used then, as Kneale is certainly earnest in his scorn for his characters.

posted evening of November 17th, 2003: Respond
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Thursday, November 6th, 2003

I am zipping right through The English Passengers, nearly halfway now, and enjoying it. A geographical issue is bothering me -- if the voyage begins at London and has as its ultimate destination Van Diemen's Land, why would they be going to Jamaica and then to Africa? It seems to me that the logical route would be to head directly south around the Cape of Good Hope and across the Indian Ocean; a side trip to Jamaica means you have to cross and recross the Atlantic.

The narrative style of the book -- each chapter is told from the point-of-view of a different character -- encourages me to go back to my reading of The Corrections, where I kept noticing how many different characters I felt sympathy for; I would expect something similar to happen here. But it does not, or not exactly -- I do sympathize with several of the characters; but the book is very broadly comic and much of it is caricature.

posted evening of November 6th, 2003: Respond

Tuesday, November 4th, 2003

I got home last night to find a package had come for me in the mail -- how exciting! It is from Gary; I opened it up and found he had sent me a new book, with a note to the effect that he thinks I will enjoy it. (And a wonderfully cool bookmark, a snapshot of the Xyris crew from '94, the first year I was working there.)

The book is The English Passengers, by Matthew Kneale. I started reading it this morning on the train and got hooked into it right away -- it has all the characteristics of a book I would like. The language is playful and erudite. The setting is 19th-Century Man, England, Wales, Australia, and Tasmania and it looks like I will get an introduction to some new history that I did not know, plus a little Manx dialect.

I want to write a bit about comparisons to other books that are coming up as I read -- but I think I will wait a bit and see how these comparisons develop, before I commit them to "paper".

posted morning of November 4th, 2003: Respond

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