Rose Tremain has long been one of the most vigorous and imaginative of novelists; her sweeping narratives (set against the most vividly realised of canvases) have made her books as dramatic and assured as anything being written today. The Colour
represents a further burnishing of her considerable talents; it is a powerful drama of greed and aspiration set in the New Zealand Gold Rush of the mid-19th Century.
Tremain's protagonists are Harriet and Joseph Baxter, who (along with Joseph's mother) leave England for the promise of the new world that New Zealand represents. Needless to say, their relocation comes with many attendant (and nigh-insoluble) problems. But their struggle against the land continues apace until Joseph discovers gold in a nearby creek and ill-advisedly conceals the find from his mother and his wife. Gold fever takes an all-consuming grip upon him, and he leaves the family-owned farm to traverse the gold fields of the Southern Alps. There he will find a strange fate: one that affects those he has left behind as well as him.
As a study of human nature in extremis, this could well be Tremains most impressive book. Lacking the elegant stylishness of Restoration, The Colour grants us a fastidiously rendered picture of life lived at the sharp edge. And while her characters are confronted with terrifying decisions that few of us are ever likely to encounter, Tremains narrative gifts make it easy to identify with the decisions (both wise and catastrophic) that her characters take. The sense of period is forcefully conveyed, and while this is not as ingratiating a read as such earlier Tremain books as The Swimming Pool Season, her new level of ambition makes it perhaps the authors most important book yet. --Barry Forshaw
--This text refers to the
From Publishers Weekly
Readers familiar with British writer Tremain's magisterial historical novel, Restoration, or her psychologically acute study of madness, Music & Silence, will not be surprised at the accuracy of historical detail in this elegant and dramatic novel about the mid-19th-century gold rush in New Zealand or by her nuanced portrait of the disintegration of a marriage. Writing at the top of her form, she tells a complex story centering on two immigrants to New Zealand, whose recent marriage represents new hopes for both of them. Joseph Blackstone fled England to rid himself of memories of a shameful act; cold and secretive, he is emotionally constricted by guilt. Strong, spirited ex-governess Harriet Salt has narrowly avoided spinsterdom; to her, New Zealand represents the freedom to explore new horizons. Together with Joseph's mother, they attempt to build a farm on the flats outside of Christchurch, but when Joseph finds gold in the creek, he becomes obsessed by "the colour," as the fabulous metal is known. Abandoning both women, he travels by ship to the west coast, where he encounters hundreds of other desperate men and the clamorous, filthy, dehumanizing conditions in which they live. Later, when Harriet attempts to follow him by land, she cannot cross the gorge between the Southern Alps, justly called "the stairway from hell." By the time she does join him, each of them despises the other, yet the discovery of gold binds them in a new way. From this point on, the narrative, already full of subtleties and surprises, becomes riveting, as nature and human nature collide. There's a wonderful subplot about the mystical connection of a white boy and his Maori nurse, and an inspired depiction of a Chinese gardener who peddles his vegetables and becomes the instrument of Harriet's salvation. With its combination of vivid historical adventure and sensual, late-blooming romance, it's hard to see how this novel can miss winning a new audience for the immensely talented Tremain.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.