The Colour - Rose Tremain 4.5 starsThe Colour is set in 1860s New Zealand, a time of mad rushing for gold as well as nation-building fueled by heavy immigration. Newlyweds Joseph and Harriet Blackstone arrive from England with Joseph's widowed mother Lillian in tow. Joseph acquires some land, builds a temporary house, and they begin the work of establishing a farm. But Joseph is distracted by gold fever after finding some of "the colour," and he is haunted by memories of the heinous act that led to his flight from England. Meanwhile, Harriet comes to regret hastily marrying a man she barely knew. He was her ticket to something new and exciting, but she finds she cannot love or even like her parsimonious, affectionless husband. She is smarter and more resourceful than Joseph, and he resents her for it. Eventually, the Gold Rush leads both Joseph and Harriet into experiences that test their mettle in ways they never could have guessed at when they dreamed of a new life in a new land. Joseph is found sorely lacking in character and fortitude, while Harriet discovers her hidden reserves of strength, determination, and self-sufficiency. This is a rather meditative and often melancholic work. Rose Tremain gets deep inside the hearts and minds of the characters, sifting through their hopes and despairs and secret motivations. This is where her writing really shines. I identified most strongly with Harriet. I could appreciate her growing desire for solitude, her love of animals and unbounded Nature, and her ability to go with the flow in a practical way. I was glad that her practical acceptance was eventually rewarded, and I can see her living out her future in a contentment very different from the one she'd envisioned.As for Joseph Blackstone, I think he's a weak and pathetic excuse for a man. He doesn't recognize the treasure he has in Harriet and doesn't deserve her. He has a stinginess of spirit that pervades every relationship and endeavour of his life. He sees other people only as stepping stones or obstacles to his own selfish ends, and he's utterly lacking in self-knowledge. The "supporting cast" of characters is also very memorable. There's Pao Yi, the gentle Chinese vegetable seller with his makeshift opium den. And the robust, enthusiastic, generous Toby and Dorothy Orchard on their very successful sheep run. And also Pare, the Maori woman caught alone between the two worlds, desperately wanting to do right by everyone, white or native. I enjoyed moving through this story at a slower-than-usual pace, and I strongly recommend it for the character studies as well as a rich introduction to historical New Zealand.