My new, no-pressure/goals/rules to reading for 2015 is *touch wood* on a bit of a roll. With a deluge of long-neglected classics (David Copperfield), some brand new spankeroons (Our Endless Numbered Days) and some little quirks, I smugly feel like I’m on a bit of a reading adventure at the moment and, with a little effort, still managing to expand my bookish horizons.
I’m no stranger to a nineteenth century tale however, for some reason stories set in what I always think of as the ‘New World’ (i.e. Australia, New Zealand, the U.S – like the wine) don’t interest me as much as tales from Europe and Asia. Why? I couldn’t honestly tell you. Perhaps it’s due to my own life experiences. What I can tell you however is that Rebecca Burns’ new collection of short stories; The Settling Earth, centering around the settler experience in colonial New Zealand, is so enjoyable it might just have shocked me into submission.
Starting with the portrait of a strained middle-class marriage on the homestead and ending with a reflective chapter by a Māori observer (courtesy of guest author Shelly Davies), Burns delicately links her stark snapshots from person to person, gradually developing a richer picture of the landscape and lives of the settlers; from prostitute to widow to writer.
To my huge delight my punt with an untested author paid off. The Settling Earth is a wide, sweeping, multi-faceted little jewel of a collection, breathing life into a cast of touchingly realistic characters; overwhelmingly focused on the female experience.
Although the female point of view is (logically) one I’m particularly interested in and one that, arguably, faces more hurdles than their male counterparts, Burns’ male made me feel slightly uncomfortable. The rapists, racists and just general let-downs left a little question mark hovering over my head; is the balance a little off here? Regardless, the inclusion of these male ‘baddies’ assists in setting a strong scene for tales of female woe.
Burns’ stark realism however is far from bleak. With the Southern Alps dominating the far horizons, the washed colours and glorious endless skies reflect the introspective, reflective mood that pervades. Writing obliquely and sensitively about some incredibly difficult subjects, Burns subtleties bring her writing from the average to the truly accomplished.
It’s in remembrance of the thousands of indigenous people whose daily existence (and life expectancies) were drastically altered by the arrival of European settlers that we also greet teacher and writer Shelly Davies’ final chapter. A crucial point of view of which I would have, if anything, liked to learn a little more about.
This was a wonderful little volume to refresh myself between books and, for a girl who doesn’t usually have the attention span to dip in and out of short stories, the perfect collection for a novel-reading soul. Due to the satisfying ripple effect on the characters upon one another from beginning to end, this book is best enjoyed in one big greedy gulp. *Gulp*.