Colours Of Gold
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher
Annie Reuben is an art restorer, working in a business with her father that is well known and respected for restoring historic items and architecture to its former glory. Her latest project is a painting found in the basement of a hotel – a Trompe L’oeil depicting the life of a young girl. Annie becomes intrigued by the painting and the people in it and she wants to find out more about them. All she has to go on are a couple of names and where the painting was found but she decides to start digging, starting with the paddleboat that appears in a portion of the painting.
In 1867, a young girl is found in a barrel on the Murray River. Rescued by the captain of a paddleboat, he takes the young girl home to his wife, knowing that his wife will take care of her. About eight or so, the young girl has no idea what her name is and so she is named Alice. What most people don’t know is that Alice has a gift – she can see colours around people and in some cases, the colours tell her something, like impending doom. Sometimes she finds it hard to keep quiet about her gift which leads to people becoming wary and suspicious of her, believing that she brings bad luck. After it happens yet again and she loses someone very dear to her, Alice runs away with a friend named Rosey to try their luck on the goldfields. They don’t end up panning for gold but they do join a troupe of entertainers, setting in motion the course of events that will lead to the painting being completed as Alice attempts to find her history…and escape the man in the black coat who has always pursued her.
As Annie becomes more and more involved in the painting, she finds herself seeing the same man in the black coat. Who is he and what does he want? If she discovers his connection then maybe she can give him some peace and satisfy her curiosity about the girls in the painting and her connection to it.
I love a good history/contemporary dual narrative which was why I requested this book even though I was a bit dubious about Alice’s ‘gift’. I’m pretty skeptical about a lot of things like that and so when it began unfolding into the story, I was hoping that I would find it easy to believe and accept it and I’m pleased to say that I did. Although it’s a very strong part of the story, it doesn’t totally dominate. Both the contemporary and the historical parts of this book are well constructed and written and I was able to switch back and forth between them easily without being overly concerned about getting back to one part of the story or the other. That balance can be hard to achieve, to run two stories side by side giving equal attention to both and not having one of them be far too dominant for the reader’s attention.
In the present day, Annie is a single mother working in her father’s restoration business. They apply many crafts in order to maintain or restore historical artifacts and architecture but Annie’s current work is a painting, a Trompe L’oeil, which is a kind of painting that creates an optical illusion and looks three dimensional. It has fallen into a state of extreme disrepair from being shut up in a basement of a condemned building for many, many years and Annie has to examine it and decide what she will do to repair it. She becomes so fascinated with the characters in the painting and the story that she believes it’s trying to tell her that she immediately sets out to find more about them. This is how Annie and her father work – they take on expensive projects and put all their focus and energy into them because it’s their passion. They could make more money taking on more jobs that are less interesting and don’t require so much work but that simply isn’t the way Annie is wired. She throws herself into things, whole heartedly and perhaps even obsessively and although it’s admirable, it means that their business is not exactly thriving any longer and this stress is placing a strain on her father’s health. Annie knows that he wants her to take over soon but she’s not exactly sure she’s ready for that – she likes being able to lose herself in projects that interest her. However she also has her young daughter to think of as well – her responsibilities mean she might have to choose between a well paying job far away and the chance of future personal happiness locally.
In the historical setting, Alice is a foundling that possesses a sort of Sight and also a variation of synesthesia where she sees colours swirling around people. Different colours mean different things and when Alice sometimes tries to warn people they end up regarding her with fear and suspicion. She spends a large part of her young life on the run with her friend Rosey, who has her own past that she’s running from too. Both of them kind of lurch from one disaster to the next as they attempt to outrun a figure that terrifies Alice, a man in a black coat that she believes is hunting her down. Finally for some peace, Alice realises that she needs to find out about her past before she was discovered and try and discover who the man in the black coat really is and why he causes such conflicted feelings inside of her.
I really enjoyed this book – towards the end I found myself frantically turning pages, racing through the story to find out more about Alice’s past and exactly what the story was with the man in the black coat and his motivations and wondering why Annie had seen him as well in the present day. The more I got into the story, the more invested I was, in both the historical and the contemporary parts.
Book #81 of 2014
Colours Of Gold is book #34 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014