08 May 2011

The Thorn Birds

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough is one of those books that gets mentioned (often in online discussions of completely unrelated things) what I feel is quite frequently for a (to me) random novel. I don't know why the book was mentioned so much, but it seemed that many of the discussers enjoyed reading it, and I decided to give it a go.

The plot follows the life of Meggie Cleary, from when she is a young girl in New Zealand in the early 1900s who moves with her family to a sheep station, called Drogheda, in Australia, to when she is an old woman. Meggie is the only daughter of a large Irish-Australian family, and is quite pretty. She is proud, aloof, and naive. Fiona Cleary, the mother is not affectionate, at least outwardly, toward her children. Meggie, as a result, uses two men in her life to meet her affection needs: she adores her oldest brother, Frank, and confides in him, but when Frank leaves the family, Meggie shifts her affections to the new area priest, Ralph de Bricassart. This relationship as Meggie grows from a young girl to a woman is a (the?) main focus of the novel.

Ralph de Bricassart, the other main character of the novel, is a Catholic priest who is ambitious but flawed. He hopes to move up the hierarchy of the Church, but is continually drawn to Meggie and Drogheda. To me, Ralph's turmoil is an interesting theme throughout the book--much more interesting than Meggie herself.

Quite often in the novel, I found myself having uncharitable thoughts toward Meggie--I frequently found her impetuous and childish--but I almost think that's a requirement for the heroines in some of these epic stories.

A few of the minor characters are also intriguing. Meggie's aunt, Mary Carson, who owns Drogheda, is completely ridiculous and manipulative, seeing Meggie as competition for Ralph's affections. Mary's jealousy creates a situation with major consequences for Ralph. Fiona, Meggie's mother, is genteel and obsessed with her parlor furniture even in the dusty outback; she is also somewhat cold, or at least not openly loving, toward the majority of her children. Fiona's past is a fascinating subplot of the story.

In summary: very entertaining, soapy, epic-romance-y read. Forbidden love! Church politics! Australian outback! Worth it if you enjoy this type of novel; otherwise, not entirely noteworthy.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 (It was okay)

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