The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough is an Australian classic. I have always wanted to read it, but at 743 pages it appeared daunting. I saw this copy at the library (hence the less than perfect cover image below – the Goodreads entry for this copy doesn’t have an image so I took a terrible one with my phone). I’ll note that I had heard of the book because it’s Australian and well-loved, but I had no idea what it was about before I began to read.
The Thorn Birds begins with the Cleary family living on a farm in New Zealand in 1915. Meggie is the only girl and has four big brothers, a stern father in Paddy, and a stoic and untouchable mother in Fee. Her big brother Frank is the light in her mother’s life, and Meggie’s protector. A change in the family’s circumstances comes when Paddy’s sister, Mary Carson, invites the family to come and live on Drogheda; a homestead on an enormous property in the Australian outback. It is here the story primarily takes place. Meggie grows older and falls in love with Father Ralph de Bricassart, a priest who wants nothing more than to become a Cardinal. The Cleary family experiences drought, dust, and flies, along with it’s fair share of happiness, prosperity, and sadness. The Thorn Birds is a story of family first and foremost, hope, love, and tragedy over three generations.
“… I’ll beat God yet. I’ve loved Ralph since I was ten years old, and I suppose I’ll still be loving him if I live to be a hundred. But he isn’t mine …”
Choosing a quote from this novel was particularly difficult. There are so many I could have gone with, but the above sums up The Thorn Birds almost perfectly. Social attitudes in the early twentieth century – the way men and women interacted and the differences in gender roles – were written beautifully and set the tone perfectly for the rest of the story. The prose captured the settings so well, I could feel the wind blowing across the Drogheda grasses, and smell the smoke from the fires.
Colleen McCullough created a family so touching it was hard to put The Thorn Birds down. I loved all of the characters, even the ones I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to and I was moved to tears more than once. I’m not sure if it’s just because I’m sentimental, or whether it’s because I could understand the women of Drogheda and what drove them (or didn’t). I loved seeing the characters grow older, and not just from childhood to adulthood but into old age as well. It truly is an Australian classic, one I can see myself reading again and adding permanently to my bookshelf.
Note: I recommend this book for people who like historical fiction and romance.