When I read Rose Tremain’s The Road Home a few years ago, I was really impressed by the writing, and it was then that I had one of those strange times where she seemed to pop up everywhere – she was on television programmes, radio programmes, interviewed in newspapers, and I couldn’t seem to avoid her. I planned to read more of her books, and bought The Colour not long after, but for some reason, it then got neglected and sat there sad and lonely, waiting for me to take it off the shelf and start reading it. My challenge to reduce my TBR lead me to this book last weekend, and I’m so glad it did.
The story follows Joseph and Harriet Blackstone, who marry when neither are in the first flush of youth and therefore decided late for the times, the mid-nineteenth century. Joseph has a past he needs to escape from, and Harriet knows she can’t face a life stuck in other peoples homes as a governess, so when he promises a journey to the other side of the world to start a new life, Harriet agrees to marry him and the couple, along with Josephs widowed mother, Lillian, are New Zealand bound. They buy some land and build a temporary house on the side of a mountain, and start their small holding with some livestock, but when Joseph digs the land to create a pond, and the water from the river is diverted to it, he gets his first glimpse of the colour – gold. The fever to prospect for gold grips Joseph, and their lives start to unravel.
I was absolutely gripped by this book. Harriet is a strong, independent and determined woman (the sort of character that Katherine Hepburn was superb at portraying on screen), while Joseph is more introverted, and haunted by something that has happened back in England which is eating him up, and his story is revealed throughout the book, but when it’s finally revealed, although it wasn’t exactly what I expected, it was quite horrific, and knowing that he’d got away with it, you could understand why he was unravelling in such a way.
Along side these great characters, is a very interesting story of the emigration of three people to the New World, where people are arriving all the time with the hope of starting a new and prosperous life, either working the land, or seeking their fortune in the gold rush. There is also a native Maori character who gives an insight into their lives and beliefs alongside these white settlers.
The only thing I would query about the book, and don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy these parts as well, but I wonder if the introduction of Chen, a Chinese man who has travelled to New Zealand with the plan to rent some land for a vegetable plot near the prospecting lands in order to make money selling fresh produce to those men in their camps away from the main towns and shops. He does play an important role to a certain extent, but I’m not sure I was totally convinced by his place in the story.
Despite my feelings about that aspect, it was hard to find any real faults with the book, the story or the writing, and I will definitely be looking for more by Tremain to read in the future.