Shelf Control #303: The Touch by Colleen McCullough

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Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

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Title: The Touch
Author: Colleen McCullough
Published: 2003
Length: 624 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

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.

How and when I got it:

I’ve had a battered paperback on my shelf for years — I don’t remember specifically buying this book, but I’m guessing it came from a library sale at some point in the last 10 years.

Why I want to read it:

I’m sure I picked this book up solely based on the fact that it’s by Colleen McCullough. I will never forget the experience of reading The Thorn Birds for the first time! Since then, I’ve only read one other book by her, but once again, I was impressed by her ability to bring Australia to life on the page and to create such dynamic characters and epic plots.

In terms of The Touch, it sounds grand and sweeping and tragic — just how I like my historical fiction! I’m glad I just stumbled across my copy while reorganizing my shelves. It was a good reminder that (a) I own this book and (b) I do intend to read it!

The only other book I’ve read by Colleen McCullough is Morgan’s Run (published in 2000), but I’d welcome other recommendations!

And as for The Touch

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


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15 thoughts on “Shelf Control #303: The Touch by Colleen McCullough

  1. The story sounds interesting but I’m not too sure because I didn’t much care for The Thornbirds which I DNF’d. The romance thread made me a little uncomfortable and there were just far too many calamities befalling the heroine, so I gave up may be under 100 pages into the book

  2. Hi Lisa! You may know that I read The Thorn Birds (for the first time) just last year and really liked it – reading a good long book during a time when most books are 200-300 pages was so satisfying! I would like to read another book by Colleen McCullough – and would be interested in seeing what you think of this one. Thanks for spotlighting it!

  3. Well, I read almost all of her Masters of Rome books (I got stuck on the 7th one and never finished it). So, if you want a sweeping HF saga (each one over 1000 pages, but that includes the glossary), that’s what you’d get from these books (the first one is called The First Man in Rome). I’ve also read her most famous book, The Thorn Birds, as well as The Ladies of Missalonghi, A Creed for the Third Millennium (which I’d like to read again, because it was prescient), An Indecent Obsession, and Tim. But somehow, after that, I didn’t read anything else by her. I wanted to read this one, but I don’t know why I never got around to it!

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