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
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
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.