The Colour – Book Review

For a few moments, the sun disappeared behind a cloud, and in the shadow, nothing of it was visible, only the shingly mud and the herringbone imprints of the ducks’ feet. But Joseph knew that he’d seen something. He stood without moving, waiting for the sun to come out again. It returned and sparkled on the water, dazzling him. He had to close his eyes for a second, and when he opened them again, he’d forgotten the precise spot where the colour had revealed itself. Then he saw it once more, a minute patch of shining yellow dust. -From The Colour, page 57-

In 1864, a newly married couple – Joseph and Harriet Blackstone – travel with Joseph’s mother Lilian from England to New Zealand to begin their lives together. For Harriet, it is the beginning of a future, a dream about her own home in the beautiful wilderness of New Zealand, a chance to have a garden and animals and to create something out of her life. For Lilian, the move represents failure and loneliness where she must give up her comfortable existence in England, be forced to piece back together the shattered remains of her china, and live on dirt floors in a cob house which leaks. For Joseph, the move to New Zealand is an escape from his past – a past he has buried and hidden from everyone – and a chance to heal his guilt and make his mother (finally) be proud of him.

Joseph Blackstone longed to do something that would please his mother. Something definitive. Something which would undo all that he’d done wrongly or inadequately in the past. He thought that if he could achieve this, then he would rest. -From The Colour, page 55-

The inhospitable and breathtaking land of New Zealand seems pitted against these people almost from the very first when Joseph mistakenly builds his home on an exposed hill instead of the protected flats. Then one day Joseph discovers gold dust in the creek near his home and keeps it a secret from both Harriet and Lilian. It becomes an obsession which promises his redemption and one which will finally drive him to the other side of the Southern Alps where a Gold Rush is underway.

Rose Tremain writes extraordinary prose which thrusts her reader into the midst of a stark and unforgiving environment. She develops her characters flawlessly – uncovering Joseph’s motivations, desires and finally his devastating secret as he struggles to find gold among desperate men. Joseph’s loss of love and morality is heartbreaking.

He felt that contentment was present in every other creature and every other thing – in the waterbirds which drank from the river, in the rats which scurried around his claim, looking for food, and in the songs the Glaswegian miners sang in the evenings. He alone lacked it. -From The Colour, page 223-

Harriet Blackstone is a raw character who grows before the reader’s eyes from an uncertain individual to a woman of courage and fortitude. In Tremain’s hands, Harriet is fully realized.

Better that we never know (she wrote to her father) what lies beyond the next hill. For the answer might come back “nothing.” And I confess that, having travelled across the world, I do not feel I would be content with that “nothing.” My habit of looking at the mountains has not gone away. They are so fine. I wish that I could paint a picture of them for you. And they Contain a mystery: that is what I feel. And I ask myself: Is the mystery they contain the mystery of my life? -From The Colour, page 168-

Lilian, too, grows from a difficult woman into one the reader comes to respect. Faced with the loss of everything she knows, she eventually puts aside the broken pieces of her life and strives to make something of what she has been given.

Thematically The Colour revolves around the power of nature, love and desire, materialism vs. inner contentment, and the connection between cultures. Tremain introduces a Chinese man who has left his family in China to join the Rush – not as a seeker of gold, but as a gardener providing sustenance for the miners.  There is also Pare – a Maori woman who develops a mystical relationship with a small boy whom she once cared for. Despite the wide scope of theme and character in this novel, it never feels scattered. Tremain connects all the threads for her readers, giving them a book which is illuminating and satisfying. Tremain is a gifted storyteller, and in The Colour she combines all her talents and creates a novel which resonates with the reader.

Highly recommended.

Please follow and like the blue thistle


Skip to comment form

    • Jeane on August 26, 2008 at 09:23

    Wow, this sounds like a great book. I’m curious about the Maori woman- I read another book that focused on Maoris and it was very interesting. I didn’t know there was a gold rush in New Zealand. Have to add this to my TBR.

    • Laura on August 26, 2008 at 11:15

    Like Jeane said–I didn’t know about the New Zealand gold rush either! This sounds like a really great book! I’ll have to keep my eye out for it!

    • dew on August 26, 2008 at 12:35

    Hmm, a book set in 1864 that isn’t about the American Civil War? That’d be different, for me anyway. I’ll add this to the wishlist!

    • Jill on August 26, 2008 at 14:16

    A great review! I was pleasantly surprised by the power of Tremain’s writing. Can’t wait to read more from her.

  1. Tremain is one of those writers I dip into every now and again, rather than automatically reading everything she writes and so this is a book I haven’t yet got round to despite the fact that everyone I know who has read it has been as warm in their praise as you have. Another one for the pile!

  2. One of my friends gave me a Rosie Tremain book to read at some point and time and while I thought it was pretty good, I have yet to read her since. Maybe I should pick up this book… I like the cover!

    • Wendy on August 29, 2008 at 11:44

    Jeane: I didn’t know about the gold rush in New Zealand either, until I read this book. I love reading books set in different countries with different cultures.

    Laura: It is definitely worth the read.

    Dew: LOL!

    Jill: I am looking forward to reading Music and Silence in October for a book club read…and I’m also getting a review copy of The Road Home, so that will be on my reading pile in the next couple of months.

    Ann: I hope you’ll read this one – it is so beautifully written.

    Kailana: Oh, hope you’ll read it…and yes, nice cover!

    • Teddy on August 30, 2008 at 23:35

    Wow, excellent review. I had put this book on my TBR with hesitation, after readig another glowing review. I did not care for her book Restoration, in fact, I did not finish it. However, this book sounds much different and now it has the “Cariboumom seal of approval”. The is no hesitation anymore!

  3. Wow, what an excellently-written review! Thanks. I hadn’t heard of this book or the author, but it sounds like an amazing story. Thanks!

    • Wendy on September 1, 2008 at 08:21

    Teddy: Oh no – pressure!!!! *laughing* I’ve not read Restoration…so can’t compare the two. I hope my recommendation proves to be a good one for you!

    Tiny Librarian: Thank you *blushes*

Comments have been disabled.

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)