Matthew Kneale

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Matthew Kneale (born 24 November 1960) is a British writer, best known for his 2000 novel English Passengers.


Kneale was born in London, the son of screenwriter Nigel Kneale,[1] and the children's writer Judith Kerr. He was brought up in Barnes, went to school at Latymer Upper School in West London, and then studied modern history at Magdalen College, Oxford. Growing up, he was always fascinated by other cultures, past and present, and as a student he travelled in Europe, South America, Central America and the Indian subcontinent. After graduating he knew he wanted to write but had little idea how to set about such a thing. He took a plane to Tokyo where he found work teaching English and began writing a diary and short stories. Later, on returning to England, his experience in Japan inspired, very loosely, his first novel, 'Whore Banquets'.

During the next few years Matthew lived mostly in London, travelled whenever he was able, spent a year in Rome, and wrote his second novel, 'Inside Rose's Kingdom'. In 1990 he moved to Oxford, where he wrote two historical novels, 'Sweet Thames' and 'English Passengers'. He also developed a fascination with languages, trying his hand at learning Spanish, Romanian, Albanian and Amharic (Ethiopian). In 2000 he married Shannon Russell and they moved country to spend time in Italy and also Shannon's homeland of Canada. He now lives in Rome, Italy, with his wife Shannon and their two children.[2]


Matthew Kneale's first novel, 'Whore Banquets' (Victor Gollancz 1987) tells the story of an Englishman whose affair with a Tokyo woman brings him into the realm of Japanese organized crime. It won a Somerset-Maugham Award and was later republished as 'Mr Foreigner'. It has been translated into five languages.

'Inside Rose's Kingdom' (Victor Gollancz 1989) follows a young innocent who moves from the countryside to London where he becomes caught up with a group of controlling, emotionally grasping people.

'Sweet Thames', (Sinclair Stevenson 1992) is set in London in 1849 and told the story the trials of an enlightened drainage engineer whose wife vanishes during a cholera epidemic. It won the 1993 John Llewellyn Rhys Award.

'English Passengers' (Penguin, 2000) casts a glance over the British Empire. It tells the story of a religious-scientific expedition that seeks to find the Garden of Eden in Tasmania, a land whose aboriginal culture had been experiencing brutal destruction at the hands of British settlers and convicts. The novel is told by more than twenty voices. It won the 2000 Whitbread Book of the Year Award, as well as being a finalist for the Booker Prize, and also for the Australian Miles Franklin Award, for which Kneale was the first non-Australian author to be nominated. In translation the book won France's Relay Prix d'Evasion. The book has been translated into 14 languages. Interviewed in 2001, Kneale said that J. G. Farrell was a writer whom he particularly admired, as one who "wrote about the British Empire - and scathingly - back in the 1970s, when few in Britain wanted to think about the uglier parts of their country's past."[3]

'Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance' (Picador 2005) is a volume of twelve short stories set all across the world, from Colombia to London to Africa. These looked at the lives of diverse people as they struggled to survive, and to do the right thing, sometimes managing neither. The volume was translated into several languages. One of the stories, 'Powder' which tells the story of a failed lawyer whose life changes when he chances upon a stash of cocaine and a mobile phone, has become a French feature film, 'Une Pure Affaire'.

'When We Were Romans' (Picador 2007) is told from the point of view of a boy, Laurence, whose mother suddenly and unexpectedly decides that she and her children, and even Laurence’s hamster, must flee England to Rome, where she lived many years before. It has been translated into several languages.

'An Atheist's History of Belief' (Bodley Head 2013) is Kneale's first non-fiction book. It looks at the beliefs that people have devised to explain their world, from earliest prehistoric times right up to the present day, as understood by a fascinated non-believer. It is currently being translated into many languages, and is to be published in the US by Counterpoint in February 2014. It has been selected by The New Statesman as one of their recommended books.


  • Whore Banquets, 1987
  • Inside Rose's Kingdom, 1989
  • Sweet Thames, 1992
  • English Passengers, 2000
  • Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance, 2005
  • Powder, 2006
  • When We Were Romans, 2007
  • An Atheist's History of Belief, 2013


  1. ^ Author interview in The Compulsive Reader, 18 March 2003. Retrieved 14 November 2013.
  2. ^ Penguin publishers site. 14 November 2013.
  3. ^ Interview by Sinéad Gleeson. Retrieved 14 November 2013.

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