The Touch

Written by Colleen McCullough
Review by Andrea Connell

The author returns to Australia with a romantic family saga encompassing the events of the late nineteenth century. Alexander Kinross fled his family’s poverty in Scotland at age 15, determined to make his fortune. Through ingenuity and fortitude, he succeeds in amassing his own financial empire. Cocky with success, he sends to Scotland for a bride, hopeful of securing the woman he wants, but instead is offered the hand of her younger sister, his cousin Elizabeth.

Against her wishes, Elizabeth is sent to her new life with Alexander. She cannot imagine what life will hold for her in this wild, rugged country. One thing she knows for certain the minute she lays her eyes on her husband, who looks to her like the devil:¬ she can never love this man. Not long after her arrival, she learns about her husband’s longtime mistress, the flamboyant and outspoken Ruby Costevan. She fulfills her duty regardless, bears children, establishes the Kinross family line, but at what cost to herself and her family?

The Touch is a compelling new perspective on the romantic theme of the mail- order bride. The novel, set against the advent of the industrial age, is steeped in Australian social and political history. It is an educational read, targeted to an intellectual audience.

That being said, the plot and the characters exhibit an industrial feel—cold, metallic, impersonal—perhaps intentionally so. The book delves a bit too deeply into the mechanical details of gold mining, steam engine building and the politics of labor unions for my taste. It attempts to convey too much information in its 450+ pages, leaving the central plot line of Elizabeth and Alexander’s unsuccessful marriage, and their relationship with Ruby, trailing behind. Although I learned a great deal about the history of Australia, I found it difficult to enjoy this book much as I would have wished.