Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review: The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

I have heard wonderful things about this novel my whole life. I have heard it compared to Gone With the Wind, among other sagas, and I vaguely remember the miniseries being on TV although I was much too young to be interested, but a romance involving a priest just never interested me much. Still, I was looking for a longer book for my flight to Australia, and this fit the bill.

This family saga covers about 60 years in the life of the Cleary family in Australia in the early half of the twentieth century. Initially the Clearys are living a subsistence life in New Zealand, when Paddy's rich sister Mary invites Paddy and his family out to live on the 250,000 acre sheep station (ranch) in New South Wales which they will eventually inherit. The only girl among the children, Meggie, immediately forms a tight connection with the local priest, Ralph de Bricassart. The boys all fall in love with the station and are very happy working there. Meggie does also work the sheep, but she knows that's not her destiny, and after the realization that she loves Ralph, despite the age difference (I think 18 years) and his vocation, and he loves her too but they can't be together, she married a ranch hand who looks a lot like Ralph. Never a good reason to get married. And it's not a very good match. Luke drags Meggie up to the rainforest where he disappears to cut sugar cane for months on end while she works as an aide to an infirm woman, living with her and her husband (who luckily are just great). I don't want to give away too much more, but there are great loves and great losses, epic droughts and wars.

The characters are all very well-developed (one of the advantages of such a long book!), including the station, Drogheda, which is nearly a character itself. The story, though long, never feels bogged down or slow. I didn't fall in love with it like GWTW and I am still a little creeped out by love scenes with a priest, but that may be that I came to the story too late - GWTW really hit me in my teens when romance was much more appealing in and of itself. But I loved the scenes of the Australian outback. I felt the landscape and the dryness were very well evoked, the country well-represented even for people who haven't been there. It's a wonderfully sweeping saga starting with horse-drawn wagons and outhouses, and ending with Meggie's daughter Justine moving to London to become an actress. I wish I had liked Justine more as she's really the major character for the last 150 pages or so, but she was just too prickly for me. Still, the book is really great. It does suck you in and the story's enthralling and hard to put down. For anyone facing a long flight or just a long weekend looking for the ultimate distraction and getaway, The Thorn Birds is perfect.

I bought this at a used bookstore.

1 comment:

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

Best miniseries ever...but I've never read it.