May 18, 2012

Book: The Colour by Rose Tremain

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:36 am

This is the story of Joseph Roderick Blackstone and his wife Herriet Blackstone. Joseph flees his life in England for a new beginning in New Zealand. The time is late 18th century and New Zealand is a new world being settled by immigrants. Joseph just wants to buy some land, and set up a farm but there are a lot more people who are migrating to New Zealand in search of the Gold that is there, and the whole place is caught up in the frenzy of the rush.

Herriet, on her part was living the life of a governess, looking after children, and is tired of the staid old life where nothing happens and yearns for adventure, a horseride on wide open spaces, and living the pioneer life. In this mood, she meets and marries Joseph.

Joseph’s mother Lillian is a reluctant accompaniment to this journey. Her husband was an animal estimator and was struggling for respectability in a middle class existence, when he was untimely killed by ostritches, a weird way to die in England! She comes to New Zealand, stays with Joseph and Herriet in the makeshift house in a plot that Joseph bought, hating every moment of it. She patiently glues together a porcelein vase that broke in the journey. A metaphor? You make your own inferences.

Half way through the book, we realize that Joseph is also running away from his personal demons related to Rebecca Millward, his ex flame. (B y the way, Rebecca Millward is the name bestowed by a real woman who won the auction for her name to be used for a charity event, which Rose Tremain, the author, sponsored!)

In the next town are Toby Orchard and his wife Dorothy Orchard (“Doro” to Toby) who are rich but want to get away from England. Lilian admires and envies their pucca stone house. Their child, Edwin, was looked after by Pare, a Maori woman, who abandoned him when he was a few months old in the cold because she feared evil spirits – it turned out to be a wild wind, and overturned the crib and threw Edwin who was flung to the ground, and was rescued only just in time by his horrified mother, Dorothy. Pare was fired, but returned in secret to talk to Edwin and tell him stories because the spirit of the world came to her in the form of a log and commanded her to go back, warning her that she will die if she did not.

When Pare disappears suddenly from her life, Edwin falls very sick, and confides only in Herriet, who visits them often.

In the meanwhile, Joseph gets the gold itch and leaves his family to go up the mountains to seek his fortune with the rest of the crews,  with ultimately disastrous consequences for the whole family.

The story is well told, and keeps your interest. Descriptions of the gold fever, the rush and the consequent boom towns, the miserable existence of the diggers, the extreme danger they subject themselves to in the hope of striking it rich, the temporary and sinister alliances and relationships they form – all of these form good background to the story.

So is the story of Pao Yi, the inscrutable Chinese vegetable seller, whose wife and kids await in China and who cannot go home without the riches he promised he would bring them and thus `lose face’ in front of relatives and family. His story forms interesting backdrop and provides yet another strand to this complex tale.

The book is reasonably well written, and the story is told in a straightforward style, without stylistic nuances. It still keeps your interest due to the intricate plot and the evocation of the gold rush, Maori and Chinese outlook and the complex interplay among the characters.

It starts of very slowly, at first, and then takes off, so if you are patient through the first few pages, you will be rewarded with a good read.

It is a neat ending with Joseph going back to England to face his past and confront the Millward family, only to realize that it is futile, and Herriet resolving to remain in New Zealand, her new home.

I think it deserves a 7/10

— Krishna


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