By Rose Tremain
Completed August 16, 2008
On the surface, The Colour by Rose Tremain was a beautifully written account of English settlers in mid-nineteenth century New Zealand, trying to escape their demons while carving a new life for themselves. However, if you scratch deeper, you saw that it’s also a story about the attainment of happiness, and more importantly, how to be happy with what you’ve already attained in life.
Joseph and Harriet Blackstone, along with Joseph’s mother, Lilian, settled in their cob house in rural New Zealand, and while dredging the creek, Joseph discovered gold dust. New Zealand was at the throes of a gold rush – much like in California – and Joseph immediately was struck with gold fever. He hid his discovery from his wife and mother, until the fever (literally) overtook him, and he voyaged out to strike it rich. Meanwhile, Harriet and Lilian were left to make do on an undeveloped farm in meager shelter.
Joseph was an interesting character. Hard-working but unconfident, he was hell bent to redeem himself from his “mistake” in England, especially in the eyes of his mother. Redemption for Joseph was in the form of money and success, which is why he was so determined to find more gold. Harriet was another interesting character. Strong, smart and practical, she longed for the mountainous life in New Zealand, but became steadily uneasy with the life Joseph wanted for them. For her, a simple but successful farm filled with warmth and love was more important than wealth.
I have never read a book set in New Zealand, and I was fascinated with the inclusions of the native culture, wildlife and customs that Tremain sprinkled in this book. The rigors of farm life and gold camps were blatant and telling, with tragedy poking its head around each corner. You wished the best for each character, even when he didn’t know what was the best thing for him (or her).
This was my first Rose Tremain novel but not my last. Her storytelling, vivid language and fascinating characters left me begging for more. I highly recommend The Colour to readers who enjoy great historical fiction or want to learn more about the settlement of the British in New Zealand.