Thomas Keneally's fictions are widely travelled: medieval Normandy, an 18th-century penal colony in the South Pacific, France in 1918, the Antarctic (twice)—you name it, they've been there. Passenger happens in the most exotic place of all: 'I sat in the black duchy of the amnion. Through the blood vessels of the placenta I took bounties from my mother's body—oxygens, minerals, carbohydrates.' This is no ordinary pregnancy:… [the foetus-narrator] has a precociously clear vision of the outside world. It's the Romantic idea of insightful childhood pushed one step further—the wise womb—and it makes for an old-fashioned omniscient narrative: the wide-awake foetus can see for miles and miles. His overview, though, is not exactly one of fingernail-paring detachment, for our unborn hero is threatened with the knives of abortion….
It may not be Keneally's best novel (The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith takes some beating) but it's his wittiest and most inventive. So strong and original is the narrative voice that he manages to work in a great deal—the foetus's Oedipus complex, the Gnome's shady business dealing, extracts from Sal's novel—without letting the main events lose their grip. And though it's not anti-abortionist in intention—the foetus is careful to stress that it's only his own life he wants to save—Keneally's lyrical responsiveness to the womb, with its 'rich lakes of wild and plentiful cilia, of browsing bacteria, of hearty corpuscles and of those flabbergasting denizens, the chromosomes', makes Passenger a quietly effective little protection campaign for the unborn child.
Blake Morrison, "The Wise Womb," in New Statesman (© 1979 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 97, No. 2496, January 19, 1979, p. 88.∗