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The Colour


The Colour

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 on January 21, 2011

The Colour
by Rose Tremain

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 0312423101
  • ISBN-13: 9780312423100