Historical Novel Society Review - The Gold

The life story of Joseph Burbidge, later known as Joseph Eggers, starts in a grimy Yorkshire coal town early in the 20thcentury. It takes the reader prospecting for gold in the far north of Canada and ends in Alberta some years after World War II.

The novel is part fictional biography, part adventure tale, part morality story. And the book falls into three parts also—Joe’s childhood, his prospecting for gold in the far north, his life as a rich man (and his death). The writer addresses the theme of man’s lust for gold but its essential lack of value within a human life.

Joe’s adventures in northern Canada make the most interesting chapters. The writer’s eye for detail, his swift and accurate characterization, his understanding of crucial survival moments—life stripped to its barest essentials—make compelling reading. This part of the book takes on an almost mythic quality, where realism and the grand sweep of myth intersect.

The description of Joe’s childhood and his life after returning from the north and his death lacks the acute observation and drama of his life in the north. While the need to bring the story full circle and incorporate a theme with meaning and even morality may be understandable, it can also slow the pace.

This book is worth reading, if only for the accurate and definitive description of the larger-than-life characters, critters, and critical immediacy of daily survival in the north.

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