matthew kneale


Matthew Kneale Biography

matthew kneale ..Photograph by Alexander Kneale


Matthew Kneale was born in London in 1960, the son of two writers and the grandson of two others. His grandfather, Alfred Kerr, was Berlin's chief theatre critic and one of Germany's leading literary figures during the Weimar era. Matthew's Manx father, Nigel Kneale, was a screenwriter for film and television, best known for the 'Quatermass' series. Matthew's mother, Judith Kerr, was the author and illustrator of children's books including 'The Tiger who Came to Tea' and 'Mog the Forgetful Cat' and wrote the autobiographical novel 'When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit'.

Brought up in south-west London, Kneale studied at Latymer Upper School and read Modern History at Magdalen College, Oxford. On completing his degree, he taught English as a foreign language in Tokyo, where he began writing short stories. His time in Japan inspired his first novel, 'Whore Banquets', (Victor Gollancz 1987) which 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 in 1988, was translated into five languages and was republished in 2001 as, 'Mr Foreigner'. Kneale's second novel, 'Inside Rose's Kingdom' (Victor Gollancz 1989) followed a young innocent from the countryside to London, where he becomes caught up with a group of unstable, emotionally grasping people.

Kneale next turned to historical fiction. 'Sweet Thames' (Sinclair-Stevenson 1992) was set in London in 1849, and follows the trials of an idealistic drainage engineer whose wife vanishes during a cholera epidemic. It won the 1993 John Llewellyn Rhys award, was translated into three languages and has been republished twice, by Penguin (2001) and Atlantic Books (2018). 'English Passengers' (Hamish Hamilton 2000) which took seven years to complete, is narrated by twenty different characters and recounts the story of a religious-scientific expedition that seeks to find the Garden of Eden in Tasmania, a land whose aboriginal culture has been ravaged by British settlers and convicts. Published in the US by Nan Talese Doubleday, it was a finalist for the Booker Prize, Australia's Miles Franklin Award, won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award, and - in translation - won France's Relay Prix d'Evasion in 2002. It has been translated into fifteen languages and was a Sunday Times UK top ten bestseller.

Kneale's next book, 'Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance' (Picador 2005) was a volume of interlinked contemporary short stories set all across the world, from Colombia to London to Africa to China. It was published by Nan Talese Doubleday in the US and translated into three languages. Kneale followed this with a contemporary novel, 'When we were Romans' (Picador 2007) a psychological thriller which is narrated by a nine- year-old, Laurence, whose mother mysteriously decides that she and her children must flee her absent ex-husband from England to Rome, where she lived once before. Published by Doubleday US in 2008, it has been translated into three languages.

'An Atheist's History of Belief' (Bodley Head 2013) was Matthew's first non-fiction book. It looks at the many beliefs that people have devised to try and comprehend their world, from prehistoric times to the present day, as understood by a fascinated non- believer. It was published by Counterpoint in the US and has been translated into four languages. Kneale's next non-fiction book, 'Rome: A History in Seven Sackings' (Atlantic Books 2017) looks at the long history of the city through seven violent and transformative moments. It was published by Doubleday in the U.S. was a Sunday Times top ten bestseller and has been translated into four languages.

Kneale next returned to fiction, exploring the medieval world with his novel, 'Pilgrims' which follows the journey of a group of English pilgrims to Rome in 1289. It was published by Atlantic Books in June 2020 to numerous and highly positive reviews from the UK national press. Kneale's next book, 'The Rome Plague Diaries - Lockdown Life in the Eternal City' is to be published by Atlantic Books in February 2021. It looks at Rome and the Romans through the prism of the coronavirus crisis.

Kneale is a keen traveller and he has visited more than eighty countries and seven continents. He has a fascination with languages and has tried his hand at learning a number of them, including Japanese, Romanian, Albanian and Amharic Ethiopian. For the last 18 years he has lived in Rome with his wife, Shannon, and their two children, Alexander and Tatiana.








Matthew Kneale's new novel, '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. Told by multiple narrators, 'Pilgrims' has much to say about Englishness, then and now.

It is 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 thinks his beloved cat needs to be rescued from the fires of purgatory. A mother is sure her son's illness is punishment for her own adultery and is desperate to be forgiven 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 wants to divorce her venal husband so she can marry her new young beau. A radical tailor wants to win of win the ear of the pope so he can overturn what he sees as a corrupt, unjust world that favours the rich. All of these characters join 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 have their own, secret reasons for going.

Reviews of the book include, from the Sunday Times, '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... Humane outrage pulses through this novel along with comic ebullience.'; '... a warm-hearted tale, full of intriguing historical detail, plot twists and comedic light touches.' (The Times). '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 sly, humane comedy' (Guardian). 'A source of constant delight... a wonderful novel.' (Front Row, BBC Radio 4).


Copyright Matthew Kneale 2013
Matthew Kneale - An Atheist's History of Belief, Understanding our most extraordinary invention - the new non-fiction book from the author of 'English Passengers', winner of the Whitbread Book of the year Award