on January 9, 2004
In THE COLOUR Rose Tremain creates a wonderful insightful portrait of individuals drawn into the lure of the New Zealand gold rush in the mid-19th century. Newlyweds Joseph and Harriet Blackstone immigrate to the south island of New Zealand with Joseph's mother Lillian in order to begin a new life on a farm in the untamed countryside. As the Blackstone family settles down to their new life it soon becomes apparent that Joseph and Harriet's marriage is not based on any deep sense of love or devotion. In fact, they are becoming increasingly emotionally distant from each other each day. In addition each is fleeing from a disturbed past in Norfolk, England. After their first year in their new homestead their lives are forever changed when one day Joseph spots a glimpse of the colour, a New Zealand euphemism for the glimmer of gold, in their creek. Keeping is discovery a secret from his wife and mother Joseph soon abandons his dreams of farming and joins the thrust of the gold rush occurring throughout the country in his dreams of striking rich and securing a better life. After he leaves his farm and heads to the west coast Harriet is not far behind with her own agenda.
This book is filled with wonderful images of the hard painstaking life of establishing a farm in the midst of the untamed New Zealand countryside. I felt sympathy for their ever-increasing struggles to remain on their farm. The descriptions of the harsh winters made me appreciate my warm apartment. One of the most interesting parts of this book dealt specifically with the gold rush. I was entranced by the descriptions of men buying mining licenses and claiming a spot of land in order to pan for gold while living in squalor - all the while clinging to the dream of striking rich and cashing in their fortunes. Also intriguing was the varied individuals who developed a business to accommodate the miners such as selling food, lodging, and sometimes their bodies. But despite my enjoyment of this section of this book, I was dismayed by the inclusion of the Maori woman and her connection with the little boy Edwin. Tremain appeared to feel a need to include a Maori storyline but it felt too forced for my own tastes. Furthermore, I felt the story of Pare didn't coincide well with the other storylines and her relationship with Edwin was eerie and unsettling. Regardless, THE COLOUR is a book that quickly grabs your attention and had me guessing the ending until the last couple of pages. I will definitely now read more books from Rose Tremain.
on December 5, 2003
At the opening of "The Colour," John Blackstone, his mother Lilian and wife Harriet, are huddled in their mud house, shivering through a freezing New Zealand gale. The cob house is especially drafty and cold because John would not listen to anyone's advice and has placed the house in the most disadvantageous place possible. You know from the start that this trio is in for trouble.
After the death of his debt-ridden father, John sells everything remaining when the debt collectors are done with it and takes his mother and new bride to the opposite side of the world for a fresh start. It is the mid-19th century and New Zealand seems as good a place as any to start a farm. But John's decisions are weirdly off-kilter, making everything even harder than it need be. Lilian plots her escape, and Harriet wonders what happened to the fleeting bliss she and her new husband knew while preparing to emigrate. Something is wrong here, something that is exacerbated by the discovery of gold-"the colour" of the title.
This is a rich and mysterious novel, a place where grueling days of sodbusting meet the cloudy mountains of a dreamtime. Rose Tremain has the ability to imbue her story with the kind of deep emotion that cannot be described and do it in a most readable fashion. The setting and the characters of "The Colour " all ring true, including the mystical ties between an English child and a Maori woman. This is an worthy addition to Rose Tremain's earlier novels, which are worth checking out if you haven't done so already. Her books are notable for their strong historical detail and unusual emotional frisson. ---Reviewed by Candace Siegle
on October 11, 2003
Tremain will capture the heart of readers who pine for the lost
and hopeless in love. Selfishness, greed, and other deadly sins move the character Joseph to despicable deeds--so unlike his wife, "Hal-yet" who yearns for the love of being free of the world of 19th century England. The New Zealand landscape comes alive with its aggressiveness in the winter: imagine a snow so deep, cold and ravaging that it can.....Greed has to be a character in the novel as it pushes the plot to an unbelievable ending....why wasn't he killed instead of....
What a movie this book would make!!!!
on August 1, 2003
The title of Rose Tremain's new novel refers to the glint of gold. Set during the 1860s gold rush in New Zealand, every character in the book is somehow touched by the crazed hunt for gold that eclipses all other possible occupations as the land is overrun by desperate miners and those who cater to them. It's a harsh world, driven by greed and deprivation, and utterly alien to the British newcomers, whose slender dreams are not strong enough to support their lack of knowledge and preparation.
Joseph Blackstone tries to outrun a horrible, tragic secret by marrying and moving his new wife, Harriet, and his mother, Lilian, to New Zealand and starting a farm. These three traveling companions are not particularly well-matched: Lilian finds the adjustment from refined Englishwoman to farm work in a foreign country to be very difficult; Harriet is forced to realize that she does not love her new husband enough to make a success of their hard new life; and Joseph just isn't resourceful enough to adapt to the strange demands of his new situation. Mining for gold and making a quick fortune seem like an easy solution to their insurmountable problems. Other settlers have done so, and facing up to failure in the midst of others' successes adds a particularly bitter tone to Joseph's experiences.
Joseph abandons his struggling farm and makes his way to the mining fields. This decision informs the fate of all three, and leads to surprising new developments. Joseph plummets to new levels of misery and disappointment in the mines, as success continues to elude him and his dark side reasserts itself. Harriet discovers unsuspected strengths; her bravery and compassion lead to bold choices and adventures. Lilian finds an unlikely, brief peace, but her death requires Harriet to search for Joseph in the mines, just in time for a catastrophic flood that annihilates the entire operation and changes the Blackstones' fortunes again.
The symbolism isn't difficult to understand. Gold represents success and the newcomers' ambition to improve their grim, practically hopeless lots. But ambition can be a complex compulsion and Rose Tremain deftly explores what makes these people happy, what they really want, and what they will do to fulfill their dreams. It's interesting that it's never the gold per se that fuels them, but what even a little money will allow them to do. Prosperity, security, a new start, or amends for an old crime --- these things are more precious and require sacrifices.
--- Reviewed by Colleen Quinn