The Colour

Well, I've finally made a start on Oceania for the 666 Challenge with Rose Tremain's stunning historical novel The colour about the less well known New Zealand gold rush. In the 1860s Joseph Blackstone and his wife Harriet set sail for New Zealand to become farmers. Joseph is running away from a terrible secret, while Harriet is looking for independence, but they are both to face challenges in a remote wilderness on the other side of the world.

Joseph becomes thirsty to find gold (the "colour" of the title) after a chance find in a creek near his home, and leaves Harriet to make his fortune. Harriet struggles against the wild New Zealand weather and then decides to set off for the goldfields herself on a quest to find her husband, a lost Maori woman, Pare, and herself. Although Pare remains obstinately out of reach and her husband is incapable of responding to her, Harriet does find happiness, gold, and independence.

This novel is a stunning evocation of the scenery of New Zealand, and a splendid lyrical tribute to those Western souls, who against all adversity settled New Zealand in Victorian times. It also explores the dichotomy of living and working with the aboriginal settlers. The Maoris are always represented positively, especially the loving, other-worldly Pare, when their lives touch the white immigrants they are seen as a force for good and as a bridge between Westerners and the lands of the Southern Archipelago. And yet, in the background, barely mentioned but nevertheless there, are tales of massacres of Maoris in the North Island.

Sometimes the thread of this novel is gossamer thin, at other times more substantial, but it is nevertheless an exhilarating and enthralling read examining a lesser-known historical event that was to have huge significance in New Zealand.


Aarti said…
I admit I had a very different reaction to this book than you did. I didn't even finish it because the man in it was so hard for me to sympathize with. I didn't like him at all- he was just so selfish. But maybe I'll give it another go some day!
Book-hound said…
Always good to get other readers' reactions, whether positive or negative. I agree with you that Blackstone is truly obnoxious. I couldn't understand how he and Harriet had ended up together to begin with. Rose Tremain does seem to have a thing for selfish men - just look at the hero of Restoration - although he does, at least, have some redeeming qualities.

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