The Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns

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Marriage transplants Sarah thousands of miles from home; a failed love affair forces Phoebe to make drastic choices in a new environment; a sudden, shocking discovery brings Mrs Ellis to reconsider her life as an emigrant – The Settling Earth is a collection of ten, interlinked stories, focusing on the British settler experience in colonial New Zealand, and the settlers’ attempts to make sense of life in a strange new land.

Sacrifices, conflict, a growing love for the landscape, a recognition of the succour offered by New Zealand to Maori and settler communities – these are themes explored in the book. The final story in the collection, written by Shelly Davies of the Ngātiwai tribe, adds a Maori perspective to the experience of British settlement in their land.

 

Rebecca Burns is an award-winning writer of short stories.  In the unputdownable ‘The Settling Earth’, each story springs from the previous one, making subtle side steps around a group of seemingly unconnected residents of colonial New Zealand.  Most of the stories concern British settlers, but it appears that life isn’t all it was cracked up to be for our emigrants.  A distinct dark cloud hangs over each character as they struggle to come to terms with their personal dilemmas.

I very much enjoyed the interconnecting element of this book. Each story stood alone and I was independently intrigued by the newly wed Sarah; the proprietor of the ‘baby farm’; the young, ambitious girl married to the aged writer; the child torn between a good education and protecting her younger sister from her abusive step-father.  After reading the last page and looking back, the bigger picture is revealed in a way that no other collection of short stories has done before. In this respect, it read almost as a short novel rather than a bunch of short stories.

Not being an aficionado of colonial times, New Zealand and/ or the daily running of a brothel, this book was also a bit of an educational experience for me. Burns has squeezed so many interesting historical facts into this short book that both enthuse and appall in equal amounts. Its always very interesting to learn about how others have lived their lives, isn’t it.

Rebecca has cleverly, and very trustingly, bestowed the responsibility of summarising her collection of short stories to guest writer, Shelly Davies. Davies writes the closing story of the collection in the voice of a Maori, observing the British settlers in his native land. Davies’ summary of Burns’ stories perfectly compliments the Maori’s observations of the emigrants. It adds to the feeling of an outsider looking in. The style of writing is very similar and the tone fits in very neatly with the rest of the stories but there is still a sense of otherness that can only be garnered from an alternate perspective.

I couldn’t put this one down. It’s got everything; intriguing characters, adventures in a new land, thoughtful observations, and all in a morning’s read. A great one for dipping in and out of during an intermittent commute or curing boredom between relentless meetings. Or wherever you want.

‘The Settling Earth’ can be bought and enjoyed here.

Thank you to Rebecca Burns for sending me a copy of your book in exchange for an honest review.

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