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The Colour

by Rose Tremain

ISBN 0374126054 / 9780374126056 / 0-374-12605-4
Publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Language English
Edition Hardcover
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Book summary

Rose Tremain has long been one of the most vigorous and imaginative of novelists; her sweeping narratives (set against the most vividly realised of canvases) have made her books as dramatic and assured as anything being written today. The Colour represents a further burnishing of her considerable talents; it is a powerful drama of greed and aspiration set in the New Zealand Gold Rush of the mid-19th Century.

Tremain's protagonists are Harriet and Joseph Baxter, who (along with Joseph's mother) leave England for the promise of the new world that New Zealand represents. Needless to say, their relocation comes with many attendant (and nigh-insoluble) problems. But their struggle against the land continues apace until Joseph discovers gold in a nearby creek and ill-advisedly conceals the find from his mother and his wife. Gold fever takes an all-consuming grip upon him, and he leaves the family-owned farm to traverse the gold fields of the Southern Alps. There he will find a strange fate: one that affects those he has left behind as well as him.

As a study of human nature in extremis, this could well be Tremains most impressive book. Lacking the elegant stylishness of Restoration, The Colour grants us a fastidiously rendered picture of life lived at the sharp edge. And while her characters are confronted with terrifying decisions that few of us are ever likely to encounter, Tremains narrative gifts make it easy to identify with the decisions (both wise and catastrophic) that her characters take. The sense of period is forcefully conveyed, and while this is not as ingratiating a read as such earlier Tremain books as The Swimming Pool Season, her new level of ambition makes it perhaps the authors most important book yet. --Barry Forshaw [via]