Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Settling Earth

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Book longlisted for Edge Hill Short Story Award
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Title:  The Settling Earth
Author:  Rebecca Burns
Publication Information:  Odyssey Books. 2014. 128 pages.
ISBN:  1922200166 / 978-1922200167
Book Source:  I received this book as a galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Rebecca Burns for sharing your book with me.

Opening Sentence:  "Sarah woke to a fierce north wind."

Favorite Quote:  "No, here, in this colony, there are opportunities, but our hearts are the same; they are still pulled and crushed, still open to hope. Our flesh still yearns for the touch of someone long dead. We just go through it at the bottom of the world."

The Settling Earth is a beautiful collection of ten inter-related short stories set in the 1800s in the colony of New Zealand. Nine out of ten present the experience of white people settling in New Zealand. The last one written by Shelly Davies of the Ng─ütiwai tribe, presents a native Maori perspective on the white settlers.

A Pickled Egg deals with a young bride settling into marriage and a new life far from family in Europe.

Mr. William Sanderson Strikes for Home hits upon the tensions between the white settlers and the native Maori and the prejudicial approach of the white settlers.

Miss Swainson's Girl takes the reader to a brothel in the city and a young girl's struggle to survive after her arrival in New Zealand.

Dottie is the toddler dropped off the baby farm that provides a solution for young women unable or unwilling to care for their children.

Port and Oranges brings the story back to the brothel and the life of the madam of the brothel.

Tenderness probes the life of Mrs. Ellis, the do-gooder and passionate charity worker, who has seen a lot in her life but can yet be surprised by what some people will do.

Dressed for the Funeral introduces another young bride, wavering between love and expediency even when a child's life hangs in the balance.

Ink and Red Lace is a story of abuse.

The Beast brings salvation to at least one of the women and retribution to one cruel and unjust man.

Balance, the final story, comes full circle back to the beginning. After all the stories about women in trying circumstances, abused and downtrodden, this story brings a strong statement about the place of women in society. It brings the Maori perspective - "There had to be balance. Without woman there was no man. And so, for Maori, even through it was the men who were out the front in war parties, politicking and making speeches, women were a powerful influence. A force to be reckoned with."

The stories all stand alone but also flow together, each picking up on a character in a previous one. Each individual story is only a few pages long. Yet, the author vividly depicts the New Zealand setting, capturing both the cities that seek to emulate the customs of its European settlers and the isolation of the countryside that reminds the settlers of the power of the land.

The author also manages to develop depth and emotion in the characters even with the brief length of the story. I found myself vested in the characters, feeling their struggle, being shocked at some of their choices, and wanting to know more. Although the stories end quickly, I found myself envisioning what happened after. The fact that the stories carry over into each other certainly helps that thought process along.

Several stories end on a decision point, leaving it to the reader to decide what direction the character would take. For me, that adds to the depth with which I think about the story. I am left wondering and thinking, which in this case is a better result than spelling everything out and have all loose ends tied in a neat package. A thought provoking collection.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.


  1. It sounds like a great book and something that I would be very interested in reading! Thanks for this review!

    1. This book epitomizes one of the reasons I love blogging so much. It's the discovery of wonderful books that I might not otherwise have discovered. I am thankful to Rebecca Burns for trusting her work with me. When you read it, let me know what you think. I love discussing books as much as I love reading them!