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Not since The Thorn Birds has Colleen McCullough written a novel of such broad appeal about a family and the Australian experience as The Touch.
At its center is Alexander Kinross, remembered as a young man in his native Scotland only as a shiftless boilermaker's apprentice and a godless rebel. But when, years later, he writes from Australia to summon his bride, his Scottish relatives quickly realize that he has made a fortune in the gold fields and is now a man to be reckoned with.
Arriving in Sydney after a difficult voyage, the sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Drummond meets her husband-to-be and discovers to her dismay that he frightens and repels her. Offered no choice, she marries him and is whisked at once across a wild, uninhabited countryside to Alexander's own town, named Kinross after himself. In the crags above it lies the world's richest gold mine.
Isolated in Alexander's great house, with no company save Chinese servants, Elizabeth finds that the intimacies of marriage do not prompt her husband to enlighten her about his past life -- or even his present one. She has no idea that he still has a mistress, the sensual, tough, outspoken Ruby Costevan, whom Alexander has established in his town, nor that he has also made Ruby a partner in his company, rapidly expanding its interests far beyond gold. Ruby has a son, Lee, whose father is the head of the beleaguered Chinese community; the boy becomes dear to Alexander, who fosters his education as a gentleman.
Captured by the very different natures of Elizabeth and Ruby, Alexander resolves to have both of them. Why should he not? He has the fabled "Midas Touch" -- a combination of curiosity, boldness and intelligence that he applies to every situation, and which fails him only when it comes to these two women.
Although Ruby loves Alexander desperately, Elizabeth does not. Elizabeth bears him two daughters: the brilliant Nell, so much like her father; and the beautiful, haunting Anna, who is to present her father with a torment out of which for once he cannot buy his way. Thwarted in his desire for a son, Alexander turns to Ruby's boy as a possible heir to his empire, unaware that by keeping Lee with him, he is courting disaster.
The stories of the lives of Alexander, Elizabeth and Ruby are intermingled with those of a rich cast of characters, and, after many twists and turns, come to a stunning and shocking climax. Like The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough's new novel is at once a love story and a family saga, replete with tragedy, pathos, history and passion. As few other novelists can, she conveys a sense of place: the desperate need of her characters, men and women, rootless in a strange land, to create new beginnings.
After last year's The October Horse, the final installment in her series set in ancient Rome, McCullough returns to her native Australia to chronicle the adventures of Scotsman Alex Kinross, a headstrong and handsome former boilermaker's apprentice in Glasgow, now rich and the founder of an eponymous town in New South Wales. It is the late 19th century, and Alex, who has settled in Australia after finding gold both in America and Down Under, can find no suitable bride, so he sends to Scotland for one. Elizabeth, the backward 16-year-old beauty he marries, takes an instant dislike to him: he's no paragon of sensitivity; he bears an unfortunate resemblance to Satan; and neither his brilliance, his money or his influence can persuade her to love him. Elizabeth bears him two daughters she almost dies giving birth to the second and forges a deep friendship with the redoubtable Ruby Costevan, a former madam and Alex's longtime mistress. But poor Elizabeth just can't be happy, until she meets Ruby's half-Chinese son, Lee. Lee returns Elizabeth's regard tenfold, but because he's as upstanding as he is beautiful, he makes himself scarce to avoid upsetting Elizabeth or Alex, whom he loves. When he can bear it no longer, Lee decides Alexander must be told but at what price? Frontier speculation, domestic strife, industrialization, a terrible rape and a brutal murder: all these mold and buffet the Kinross clan until a final, tragic act of generosity promises to end the pain. Though they are frequently at the mercy of the novel's complex plot, McCullough's characters win sympathy with their spirited striving for love and honor.