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.
I like to read a short story collection from time to time and The Settling Earth was many of the things I like in fiction. Historical fiction immediately appeals to me, and while the exact time period is not pin-pointed in these stories, the sense of a newly-colonised New Zealand and Rebecca’s descriptions of that are very well done.
What I particularly liked in this collection, was that although the stories can stand individually and be enjoyed, there is a thread running through them. As you move through the collection, looking from a character’s point of view, you see characters from previous stories and are able to make a different interpretation of their story.
There is also another thread running through each story, and that is one of hope – each of the characters coming to settle in New Zealand is hopeful that it will be the start of a new life, in limitless surroundings, so different from home. For some this hope is realised to some degree, but for others, it’s entirely misplaced.
The final story in the collection is written by Shelly Davies and gives a Maori point of view of the colonials and their very strange ways and attitudes. It’s useful I think, in a collection such as this which focuses on colonials to remember the view of those who lived on that land long before it was claimed by Britain.