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Pilgrims [9781786492371]

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From the author of English Passengers and Rome: A History in Seven Sackings. 

'An enthralling and wonderfully vivid novel from a master storyteller' - Joseph O'Connor
'So delighted… A source of constant delight … A wonderful novel' - Front Row, BBC Radio 4

The year 1289. A rich farmer fears he'll go to hell for cheating his neighbours. His wife wants pilgrim badges to sew into her hat and show off at church. A poor, ragged villager is convinced his beloved cat is suffering in the fires of purgatory and must be rescued. A mother is convinced her son's dangerous illness is punishment for her own adultery and seeks forgiveness so he may be cured. A landlord is in trouble with the church after he punched an abbot on the nose. A sexually driven noblewoman seeks a divorce so she can marry her new young beau.

These are among a group of pilgrims that sets off on the tough and dangerous journey from England to Rome, where they hope all their troubles will be answered. Some in the party who have their own, secret reasons for going.

Told by multiple narrators, Pilgrims has much to say about Englishness, then and now.

Praise for Pilgrims:

'Matthew Kneale’s new novel could hardly be a more welcome getaway from our present world of lockdown and social distancing… a novel that brims with comedy… for all his book’s euphoria, Kneale never ignores an evil that pervades its period. Humane outrage pulses through this novel along with comic ebullience.' - Sunday Times

'There’s a sly, humane comedy in the way Kneale ventriloquises both the stranglehold of religious law on daily life and thought and the endlessly inventive individual efforts to exploit and interpret it.' - Guardian

'If you didn’t already know that Kneale is a historian as well as a novelist, it wouldn’t be hard to guess from this rich and absorbing book.' - The Times

'Uproariously funny... Kneale pulls no punches when satirising the corruption of the church… Just as English Passengers shone a light on the racism of colonialism, Pilgrims highlights religious persecution. For all of the hilarity of the pilgrims’ capers, Kneale does a good job of showing us the darker side of British history - and reminding us that in silence lies complicity.' - Financial Times

'A warm-hearted tale, full of intriguing historical detail, plot twists and comedic light touches.' - The Times

'The novel’s rich polyphony builds into a panoramic picture of late 13th-century England, divided by status but supposedly united in faith. Yet a murderous anti-Semitism simmers, and this motif returns to bend the story’s arc.' - Independent

'An enjoyable exploration of ancient English beliefs and loyalties that still have disquieting echoes today.' - Evening Standard

Pilgrims is a riveting, sweeping narrative that shows medieval society in a new light, as a highly rule-bound, legalistic world, though religious fervour and the threat of violence are never far below the surface.

AUTHOR: Matthew Kneale was born in London in 1960, the son and grandson of writers. He studied Modern History at Magdalen College, Oxford. Fascinated with diverse cultures, he travelled to more than eighty countries and tried his hand at learning a number of foreign languages, including Japanese, Ethiopian Amharic, Romanian and Albanian. He has written five novels, including English Passengers, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award. His latest was a non-fiction history book, An Atheist's History of Belief. For the last fifteen years he has lived in Rome with his wife and two children.

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Matthew Kneale
Atlantic Books
560 Grams
  • 5

    Posted by john grey on 2nd Apr 2021

    This book is one which falls into the category of those you try to read slowly because they are so good you can’t bear to reach the end! It is stunningly well-written, so that despite being set in the 13th century, the characters step straight off the page. It’s the first book by Matthew Kneale that I’ve read but I’m already searching for his others!

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