I received an advanced review copy of this collection of short stories from the author.
All of the characters in these short stories are connected by their sense of alienation and misery while living an emigrant’s life in the hot, dusty colony of New Zealand in the 19th century. The book begins with Sarah, whose parents have given her away to an older man named William Sanderson who drags her off to live on his isolated farm in New Zealand. Sarah is lonely, homesick and stuck in an unhappy marriage. She seems to be wandering around her home in a daze, either not fully aware of her surrounding or in denial of her situation.
William himself is also the focus of one of the stories in the book and he doesn’t seem to want to live in New Zealand any more than his wife does. In order to relieve his stress and find an outlet for his frustrations, he likes to visit a brothel in Christchurch. William is also a bigot and has a severe dislike for the Maori natives.
Several characters from the brothel also have their own stories. The owner of the brothel, having left England and started her business, tries to look after her “girls” as best she can. But, despite the fact that precautions are taken, several of them still manage to get pregnant. The women in the brothel are just as sad as Sarah and trapped in a lonely and demeaning life.
The saddest, and most heart-rending story in the collection, is that of Mrs. Gray who takes in the babies of unwed mothers. These fallen women and their children are judged harshly and shunned by the colony. It is ironic that many of these women have come to the colony for a fresh start but the colony also rejects them because of their perceived sins. Mrs. Gray believes that she is helping these women and her babies, but the help that she is giving these women is not what they are expecting.
THE SETTLING EARTH is a well-written group of stories, full of downcast and moving characters. My only complaint about the book, if indeed it can be called a “complaint,” is that just when I became fully invested in a character the story would end. This collection could easily have been made into one, continuous, thought-provoking book; I would love to see what a talented author like Rebecca Burns could do with a full-length novel.
About The Author:
Rebecca’s debut collection of short stories, “Catching the Barramundi”, was published by Odyssey Books in November 2012 and is available to order from Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Catching-Barram…. In March 2013 it was longlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Award.
The Settling Earth is Rebecca’s second collection of short stories.