The Colour

This historical novel (400 pages) was published in April of 2004 by Picador. The book takes you to gold-rush-era New Zealand. Melissa read The Colour and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

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The Colour

Rose Tremain

The wilds of New Zealand are not a nice place for a lady to find herself in the 1860s — but, it turns out, Harriet Blackstone is no ordinary lady. When her husband gets caught up in the gold rush fever of hunting for ‘the colour,’ she finds her own well of strength she never knew she possessed.

When the story begins, newlyweds Joseph and Harriet have recently emigrated from England to New Zealand with Joseph’s mother in tow. It should be an optimistic and exciting time: new land, new opportunity. But it soon becomes clear that all three of them are fleeing from events in their past, more than they’re running toward something fresh and good. And now the three of them are stuck with each other. In a flimsy house on a windy bluff. Desperately trying to scrape a living out of the hard-packed soil.

When Joseph discovers a glimmer of gold in his creekbed, it becomes a desperate secret and a dangerous catalyst for everything that happens next.

Author Rose Tremain weaves authentic details into the story, fully immersing us in the grit and perils of the gold rush days. We meet scam artists and hustlers, good-hearted miners, tribal Māori, some settlers who are decent, and many who are not. The action travels through real-life locations on New Zealand’s South Island: Christchurch, the Southern Alps, the mining towns of towns of Kaniere and Hokitika. And against this beautiful and brutal background, Harriet’s story unfolds.

Harriet is a quiet force, intelligent, determined, blessed with deep wells of patience — until she’s not. Even in the face of overwhelming challenges, she has zero self-pity and gets on with the business at hand. Which is a necessity when a storm can blow down a house, a flood can wipe away a village, and your no-good husband has run off in pursuit of elusive bits of precious metal.

This grand adventure tale is told through lush descriptions of New Zealand’s landscapes, plenty of action, and complex characters who aren’t always likable but feel real. Some scenes are tough to read, but, ultimately, this story will transport you to a time and place that’s quite different from our own.

She felt her spirits falter. She began to think – for the first time since deciding to marry Joseph – that she should have stayed in England, sitting in her governess’s chair, with her pencils and her books, with children she was able to grow fond of, with a father who loved her. Only the sight of the distant mountains, the sheer size and beauty and mystery of them, kept her from falling into a deep melancholy. When the spring came, Harriet promised herself, she would go into the mountains – with a strong horse if she had one by then, or with the donkey, or even on foot. She would go into the mountains alone and rediscover her willingness to continue with this New Zealand adventure. — Rose Tremain

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