The Colour by Rose Tremain
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2003
382 pages. Borrowed from the library.
I read Tremain’s Orange Prize winner, The Road Home, last year and really loved it, so I plan on reading Rose Tremain’s other novels. The Colour is a historical novel, very different from The Road Home.
In the 1860’s, Joseph and Harriet Blackstone leave England to start a new life in New Zealand. Joseph’s mother, Lilian, journeys with them. Their hope is for a new beginning, leaving behind a dark past.
None of them are prepared for the struggles their new life entails and all suffer during the first winter in their “cob house”. Then Joseph discovers gold in the stream that runs through their property and his desire to succeed in this new land take a different turn. He hides his discovery from his wife and his mother and plots how he will become rich.
I felt the strength of this novel lies in Tremain’s ability to bring the rugged land of New Zealand to life. The story follows the Blackstone family and several other characters, some became more real to me than others. It is the land itself that I was drawn to and I also was drawn to and admired Harriet Blackstone.
So they set out under the wide sky, the horses frisky and longing to gallop. They hurtled over the flats, skirting the clover fields, sending sheep running and bleating in random directions. Strands of Harriet’s hair unfolded themselves from the knot she’d made of them and buffeted her cheeks and whipped themselves around her neck.
She had never ridden at such a speed. The land spread out at every corner of her vision. Shadows of white clouds caressed the valleys and sailed on. Ahead of her, Dorothy’s chestnut mare and Edwin’s grey pony raced through the bright air faster and faster, until Harriet could no longer hear the sound of their hooves and they became smaller and smaller, a tiny, shimmering cluster of colour on the fawn palette of hills.
And the further away from her they moved, the more exhilarated Harriet became. To be alone here, alone with a strong horse in all this magnificent vastness. From pages 52/53.
Joseph’s creek does not bring him the riches he desires so he leaves Harriet and Lilian and travels to the goldfields in the west. Eventually Harriet follows him and during that journey discovers much about herself and her own strengths and desires. Joseph, through struggle and loss, gains an understanding of his own life and is changed.
He remembered that those Chinese he’d encountered – like the men he’d observed on the Wallabi – had all manifested a kind of quiet resignation, as though they understood better than anyone else how bitterly hard it is to survive in the world and rise up in it to any degree, and so decided to put their trust and their energies into small things and dream no grandiose dreams and even be content to fossick patiently through stray corners of earth left by others who had moved on.
He found he envied them their ability to do this. He saw how his own head had always and ever been roaring with schemes and desires and, even now, wouldn’t let his rest. He dreaded to live his whole life like this, burning with unsatisfied longing..From page 341.
There are several subplots in this novel and at times I felt Tremain had overdone it, tried to stuff too much into it. In the end it all blends together into a beautifully written novel about longing and the tender structure of relationships.
I was introduced to a new word in this novel. To fossick means to search for gold, especially by reworking washings or waste piles.