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The Colour (2003)

by Rose Tremain

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
9975414,746 (3.79)347
Newlyweds Joseph and Harriet Blackstone emigrate from England to New Zealand, along with Joseph's mother Lilian, in search of new beginnings and prosperity. But the harsh land near Christchurch where they settle threatens to destroy them almost before they begin. When Joseph finds gold in a creek bed, he hides the discovery from both his wife and mother, and becomes obsessed with the riches awaiting him deep in the earth. Abandoning his farm and family, he sets off alone for the new goldfields over the Southern Alps, a moral wilderness where many others, under the seductive dreams of the "colour," rush to their destinies and doom.… (more)
  1. 20
    The Secret River by Kate Grenville (jayne_charles)
    jayne_charles: More Antipodean colonial pioneers
  2. 00
    The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (doryfish)
    doryfish: Both are historical fictions set during the New Zealand gold rush that focus on interactions between a diverse cast of characters.
  3. 00
    The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton by Jane Smiley (wandering_star)
    wandering_star: Both these books focus on pioneer women, whose previous lives have done nothing to prepare them for the new difficulties and tasks which face them, and how they match up to their new life.
  4. 00
    Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey (wonderlake)
    wonderlake: Similar (literally) 'builing a new life' story on the other side of the world. Roderick Blackstone (The Colour) has a gambling "System"/debts

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» See also 347 mentions

English (51)  Danish (2)  French (1)  All languages (54)
Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
Rose Tremain's novel "The Colour" is a work of historical fiction about the gold rush in New Zealand in the 1860's. Joseph Blackstone marries a woman he barely knows named Harriet and drags her and her mother off to New Zealand to start a new farming life -- but the discovery of "the colour" on their property leads him in a very different direction.

I actually enjoyed Harriet's story a lot and the gold rush portions of the novel. There is a subplot involving a neighboring child named Edwin Orchard and Maori woman named Pare that I didn't feel was well integrated into the book. I didn't enjoy that portion of the book as much. ( )
  amerynth | Jul 7, 2019 |
I probably would not have read this book if it wasn't on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list. I'll never read anything close to 1001 books from the list but I try to read 12 or so every year and I try to read ones that I think I will like. This book was suggested by the LibraryThing 1001 Books group to read in February 2019 and I thought it sounded like something I would like. And I did.

This book is set in New Zealand in 1864. Joseph and Harriet Blackstone and Joseph's mother Lilian have left Norfolk in England to start a farm on the South Island. Joseph was a cattle auctioneer and Harriet had worked as a governess in England. Joseph had decided to build a cob house, which is made of grass and mud pressed into bricks, and he chose a high location which would allow him to look down on his land. The men who helped him build the house recommended he build in a more sheltered spot but he ignored their advice. When the winter blizzards came snow built up around the house and suffocated their one milk cow since there was no shelter for it. Joseph wasn't paying too much attention to the farming aspect since he had seen some fine gold dust along the creek running through his property. More disasters occurred and Joseph decided that the best way to recoup was to join the gold rush on the other side of the South Island. He left by boat from Christchurch promising to be back before another winter came. Harriet and Lilian tried to save the crops and house but the house started to fall apart. Lilian had a heart attack trying to shore up the walls with sand bags and she died while Harriet was fetching the local doctor. Harriet decided to set out to find Joseph and tell him his mother was dead. After a false start she did make it to the gold fields where Joseph was not having any luck.

There is another sub plot about a Maori woman, Pare, who was governess to the young son of another local landowner. She was dismissed in disgrace when she abandoned her charge, Edwin, because she thought a monster was after her. For years after she would secretly visit Edwin and tell him Maori legends. Then she also left for the gold fields but she was after greenstone because she believed she had offended the gods and an offering was needed to appease them. Edwin seemed to receive thoughts from Pare and knew she was in trouble. He asked Harriet to look for her in the goldfields and Harriet did try.

The sub plot did not quite work in my opinion as it seemed too contrived. However it was interesting to get the Maori point of view about the gold rush. There was also another outsider who witnesses the way the white men behaved. Chen Pao Yi came to the gold fields from China to make his fortune but he did it by growing vegetables and selling them to the miners. He and Harriet had a love of gardening in common and soon they had more than that.

Elizabeth Catton's book The Luminaries came out some years after this book and it also was set on the gold fields of New Zealand. It won the Booker Prize so it was obviously viewed as a great book but to my mind this book was a better read. ( )
  gypsysmom | Feb 27, 2019 |
I very much enjoyed this historical fiction set during the New Zealand gold rush, late 1800s. If you like well-written historical fiction with a strong setting, good character development, and a strong female character, you'll probably like this. ( )
  japaul22 | Feb 16, 2019 |
The Colour by Rose Tremain is an exceedingly well written historical fiction novel with a strong story, well developed characters and an interesting setting. This is the story of Harriet and Joseph Blackstone who marry and come to New Zealand full of hope and determination to forge a homestead from the wilds of New Zealand’s Southern Island. Joseph’s mother, Lillian, is a reluctant addition to this small family, she despises the isolation and would far rather be making her home in the town of Christchurch. Joseph and Harriet barely know each other, Joseph needs a wife to help create the new life he envisions while Harriet is escaping her unmarried life as a governess.

The layers and secrets of each character are slowly revealed throughout the course of the story. Love never develops between Harriet and Joseph, instead Joseph loses both his head and his heart to gold fever and he eventually abandons both his mother and his wife for the gold fields. Harriet and Lillian carry on but their homestead is doomed. Harriet then follows Joseph to the gold fields but this strong and resourceful woman soon finds her life heading in a new direction.

The author delves deep into her characters to reveal their motivations, hopes and desires. We learn very quickly that Joseph lacks strength of character and purpose and that Harriet is very clever and has a core strength of iron. Joseph spends most of his time feeling regretful of all that he has done yet continues to avoid any confrontation. Harriet, who soon sees Joseph for what he is, is on a voyage of self-discovery. While the story is generally rather melancholy, the author writes in such a way that the reader is totally transported to late 19th Century New Zealand. The supporting characters are all realistic and interesting and help in building the layers that abound in this rich historical novel. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Feb 15, 2019 |
Gold: "is as duplicitous as a girl. It shows itself and beckons. Within its first gleam lies the promise of more, much more…"

This novel is set in 1860s New Zealand and as such will be seen as a piece of historical fiction. However, it is more than that it is a story of secrets and lies.

Newly-weds Joseph and Harriet Blackstone, accompanied by Joseph's widowed mother Lillian, leave their life in Norfolk for a new one in New Zealand. He is fleeing a guilty secret, she abandoning a dull life as a governess in the search for adventure. Despite being married they hardly know one another and the only thing they have in common is a shared desire to start anew, somewhere else.

In New Zealand Joseph buys some land and builds a small house out of mud and straw. Together, Joseph and Harriet, dig a farm out of the virgin soil, whilst at the same time digging themselves into a cold, unhappy marriage. The only bright point for Harriet is that she makes friends with their distant neighbours Toby and Dorothy Orchard and their son Edwin. One day Joseph discovers gold in the river running through their land but rather than tell Harriet about his find and unsatisfied by the quantity he decides to abandon the farm as well as Harriet and Lillian and join the gold rush that is just beginning in west of the country. When Lillian catches a chill and dies Harriet's desire for adventure and the collapse of their house leads to her leaving the farm to join Joseph which given the state of their marriage this certainly seems to stretch credibility to its limit. However, once at the gold fields both find a kind of happiness for themselves although not the kind that they may have each anticipated.

Tremain manges to paint a very vivid picture of the hardships of life in New Zealand both physical and natural in those early colonial days. In particular her depiction of the gold-fields with its squalor, its fossicking, windlasses and box flumes is very striking. But also her depiction of the gold prospectors themselves, their desire and bitter hope despite disappointment after disappointment is so engaging that you can almost feel it yourself. And it is not only the miners who catch the gold bug so do those who left behind who try and profit from the influx of so many incomers. This is best portrayed when the seemingly upright Christian landlady Mrs Dinsdale, who befriends Lillian on their initial arrival in Christchurch, but becomes coquettish and rather brazen when so many single men arrive in the country. That said and done I found it rather hard to feel any sympathy for any of the main characters.

However, when all said and done, the author's diversion into the spiritual and in particular the relationship between Edwin and his erstwhile Maori nanny Pare that rather lets the book down for me. IMHO it was unnecessary and acted as a distraction from the main plot rather than enhancing it. This a real shame because otherwise I found this is a very enjoyable read. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Aug 24, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
It's an engrossing novel, an adventure story with a sensitive side; Robert Louis Stevenson with a fit of the vapours. Since Tremain's writing is celebrated for its richness, its sensuousness, it's a relief to report that the comparatively muted colours of The Colour are no obstacle to her readability. If anything, they allow it to shine even more brightly.

» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tremain, Roseprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bron, EleanorNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Gold diggings disorganise society, induce a moral blight, divert activity from saner enterprise and encourage a disagreeable immigration of the scum of China. ~ Lyttleton Times, New Zealand

Gold has been all in all to us. ~ West Coast Times, New Zealand
For the Domino team, with all my love
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The coldest winds came from the south and the Cob House had been built in the pathway of the winds.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Newlyweds Joseph and Harriet Blackstone emigrate from England to New Zealand, along with Joseph's mother Lilian, in search of new beginnings and prosperity. But the harsh land near Christchurch where they settle threatens to destroy them almost before they begin. When Joseph finds gold in a creek bed, he hides the discovery from both his wife and mother, and becomes obsessed with the riches awaiting him deep in the earth. Abandoning his farm and family, he sets off alone for the new goldfields over the Southern Alps, a moral wilderness where many others, under the seductive dreams of the "colour," rush to their destinies and doom.

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