About a month ago, I was contacted directly by author, Rebecca Burns for a review of her short story collection The Settling Earth. I tend to love short story collections and to be honest, I'm not sure if this book would have crossed my path had she not contacted me. Thank you to Burns and Odyssey Books for gifting me with a copy of The Settling Earth, in exchange for an honest review.
PLOT - The Settling Earth is a small collection of short stories set during the British colonization of New Zealand in the 1800's. Although all of the stories can exist independently, the characters and themes often resurface in more than one story. The final story in the collection is not by Burns, but by Shelly Davies, a member of the Maori tribe. Thematically, a majority of the stories deal with women's issues and their treatment as second class citizens during colonial times.
LIKE - My only other reference to colonial New Zealand is from one of my favorite movies, Jane Campion's The Piano. I kept flashing to the film as I read through this collection. I liked the multi-layered themes of the colonial women and the native population's oppression. The two paralleled, even in their differences. I liked the little twist in the final moment of the last story, which brings these two groups together. I enjoyed the overlap between the characters in the stories, so much so, that I wished that their stories had been expanded. Easily, there could be novels with some of the characters.
The story that stood out the most, was the woman taking in the babies. It's shocking, horrific and desperate. It was a strong overlap to, in a different story, show a woman who had left her baby at this house. I wish that this had been the central story and expanded, as I was left wanting more.
I enjoyed reading stories set, not only in a very different time period, but in a different culture. The characters lead lives that are so completely different from my own and that it fascinated me. Their desperation and dilemmas are just horrible to imagine.
DISLIKE - As with many collections, some stories are stronger than others. In particular, the first two stories failed to hook me. I can appreciate their important in the grand scheme of the collection, but it was a slow start. If you're reading this review and have not read The Settling Earth, I would urge you to not let this last comment put you off, because once it picked up steam, it grabbed me.
RECOMMEND - Yes. Burns and Davies are both beautiful storytellers and The Settling Earth is a worthy collection. I think this would appeal to people who enjoy historical fiction and women's literature.