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The Colour

by Rose Tremain

Shortlisted for the Orange Prize, this is not a comfortable book to read but it is difficult to put down. Joseph and Harriet emigrate to new Zealand to start a new life and Joseph, never really cut out to be a farmer, gets gold fever and joins the Gold Rush. Harrowing stuff, gives a real insight into the frenzied search for riches and the possession of 'the colour'. A very powerful novel which deserves to win.

Extract

After Joseph had gone away to build the house, Harriet began her scrapbook. She told herself that she was making it for her father, Henry Salt, (a teacher of geography who had never travelled further afield than Switzerland) but she also knew that she was making it for herself.

In her first letter to Henry Salt, she said that she did not expect the scrapbook to contain ‘much of irresistible interest’ at first, but that when the Cob House was built, when they were living there, out in the middle of nothing, ‘then I think I will find something to intrigue you’. She had been surprised to discover a very beautifully bound leather book in a shop in Worcester Street, with pages stiff and creamy as starched pillow-slips. She was tempted to ask for her name to be inscribed on the cover in tooled gold lettering, but Joseph had warned her not to spend money on ‘anything dear or inessential’. What she had of currency was going to be used to buy vegetable seed, poultry, fence posts, wire and a dairy cow. She knew she should not really have bought the book itself, but it was her way of marking a line between her new life and her old. The first thing Harriet put into the book was a leaf. She thought it was a maple leaf. It had fallen out of the sky on to the ship in the middle of the Tasman Sea - or so it had seemed. She named it Leaf out of sky on board the SS Albert. The second item was a label from a box of Chinese tea she had bought at a shop called Read’s Commodities. On the label was a drawing of two herons, with their necks entwined amid some Chinese writing, and Harriet thought it beautiful and strange. She labelled it First purchase of tea. She added some photographs of boats at anchor in Lyttelton Harbour, found in the shop where she bought the book, and some New Zealand stamps with Queen Victoria’s head on them. Neither of these last things did she find interesting, but she saw that the leaf and the tea label on their own did not convey the idea of the coming book. And it was this that excited her, the scrapbook filling up with all the elements of her future life. To her father she wrote: In Christchurch, I do not feel as though I have yet arrzved. Where Joseph is, there will I encounter the true Aotearoa, there will I feel the extraordinary difference of things. There will I see flightless birds and glaciers shining in the sun.

Parallels

Restoration by Rose Tremain
The Last Ride by Thomas Eidson
 

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