The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

Thorn BirdsFiction — print. Avon, 1977. 692 pgs. Received from PaperBackSwap.

Last Christmas, while waiting for a table at a restaurant, my dad and I perused the shelves of Barnes & Noble. He was shocked at how many books on display I had read, but he was equally shocked that I had never read nor heard of The Thorn Birds. I ordered a copy off PaperBackSwap and opened to the first page to find a quote that made me aching to read the book.

“There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves the nest it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it has found one. Then, singing among the savage branches, it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest spine. And, dying, it rises above its own agony to outcarol the lark and the nightingale. One superlative song, existence the price. But the whole world stills to listen, and God in His heaven smiles. For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain… Or so says the legend.” (pg. 1)

The Thorn Birds follows Meggie Cleary from childhood to her teen years on Drogheda, a sheep station in the Australian Outback, to her adulthood romance with Roman Catholic priest, Father Ralph de Briscassart, to her days as a mother to the daughter, Justine, she hates and the son, Dane, she adores. The novel’s 692 pages are divided into sections by years and entitled for a different person in the family — Meggie, Ralph, Dane, Fiona, Paddy, etc.

I absolutely loved the first section, titled for the main character, because the strength of emotion displayed really wowed me. I felt Meggie’s pain as her older brothers, Bob, Jack, and Hughie, rip apart her new doll, Agnes, and that only comes through strong writing. However, once the Clearys moved to Drogheda and the character of semi-creepy Father Ralph was introduced, the whole novel took a turn in a completely different direction. Emotion and character development was pushed aside in favor of a racy relationship between a priest who won’t give up his compromised promise to God and a young woman who never grows up.

I guess you could say this is first book I abandoned in quite some time, though I did read the first section, the “Ralph section,” the “Paddy” section, and the “Fiona” section. The rest I just skimmed and tried to force myself to read, but The Thorn Birds just wasn’t grabbing me and I had to put it aside. I just couldn’t get past Meggie and Ralph’s predictable, repulsive, and self-destructing relationship.

One comment

  1. Sorry you didn’t like this one. I watched the miniseries with my mom when I was in high school, ran out and bought the book, and let it sit on my shelf and collect dust for several years. I ended up reading it, and I enjoyed it. I really do think Father Ralph was kind of creepy though. How do you go up to a priest as a little girl, talk about your period with him, and then grow up to have an illicit relationship with him? I dunno, but I still liked the book.



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