Three generations of men in my family have been/are involved in the gold mining industry. When I found a novel by Rose Tremain, a favourite author, about the 19th century gold rush of New Zealand, I had to buy it. And I’m glad I did!
Whether she’s describing the harsh wilderness that awaits the newly-wed English couple, Harriet and Joseph Blackstone, and Joseph’s mother Lilian, on their arrival; the dangerous man-made wilderness of a mining camp, or the toll both take on the human psyche, stripping away all inessentials and reducing individuals to their most basic nature, Tremain’s writing doesn’t disappoint.
With subtle twists and turns, the characters that inhabit this story must face deep truths about themselves. Those, like Joseph, who at first appear strong and reliable, disintegrate under the raw influence of the colour (gold) and their own secrets (Joseph’s relationships with both Rebecca and Will are excruciatingly revealing.) Others, like Harriet, discover unexpected inner fortitude, while Chen Pao Yi, the Chinese vegetable peddler, reveals a quiet strength and sensitivity that is Harriet’s salvation.
Tremain’s skill comes to the fore in her characterisations: although the cast of secondary characters is at times overwhelming, each character is drawn with such exquisite talent that their world is captivating.
Without any overt moralising, THE COLOUR ends with a clear message: those who face life with a sense of entitlement (whether based on their gender, race, social status or sense of victimhood) will find life futile and meaningless, while those who face life’s challenges with hope, courage and kindness will prosper both spiritually and materially.
Tremain has written a novel that is both profound and entertaining. A remarkable achievement.