Thomas (Michael) Keneally 1935–
Keneally is one of his country's most prolific contemporary writers. He is of Irish-Catholic descent and spent several years studying for the priesthood. Unable to accept traditional Catholic doctrine, Keneally left the seminary, but his writing is pervaded with his continuing concern with human conscience and moral principles. Early novels such as The Place at Whitton (1964), a gothic horror story set in a seminary, and Three Cheers for the Paraclete (1968), which features a liberal Catholic priest, directly reflect his religious experiences.
Many of his later novels, however, center on historical incidents. Peter Ackroyd has commented that, "In Keneally's hands the historical novel is redeemed as the raw materials of the past are turned into a kind of fable." Most critics agree that Keneally offers a fresh perspective to historical events by focusing on the people involved and their struggle with moral choices. Critics praise his narrative voice, his careful characterization, and his sense of place.
Bring Larks and Heroes (1968), described as the historical novel that "made his name," depicts social interaction within the early convict society. Another important novel, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1972), offers insight into Australia's race relations by reforming the story of a half-breed turned outlaw. The Joan of Arc legend and the horrors of fifteenth-century warfare are the subjects of Keneally's Blood Red, Sister Rose (1974). Other novels dealing with war include Gossip from the Forest (1976) (the Armistice of 1918), Season in Purgatory (1977) (the partisans of Yugoslavia during World War II), Confederates (1979) (the American Civil War), and his recent Schindler's Ark (the survival of thousands of Jews from the Holocaust due to the efforts of a German industrialist). Schindler's Ark, which won the prestigious Booker McConnell Prize in 1982, exemplifies Keneally's skill at personalizing history.
(See also CLC, Vols. 5, 8, 10, 14, 19 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 85-88.)