Book review: The Thorn Birds

Remember awhile back how I said I was trying to read books on the BBC’s top 100 books list this year? Mostly, I’m concentrating on reading the ones I haven’t read (and possibly a rereading a few favorites) and trying to beat last year’s number of books I read (25). The latest book I finished from the BBC list is The Thorn Birds. Here’s my review:

Book: The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

Date finished: 3/18/2010

OK, I will admit this: I didn’t know one thing about what The Thorn Birds was about. I knew there was a miniseries, but it was either before I was born or when I was too young to watch or care. I knew there was something about a priest and something about a love story. My knowledge stopped there. And I knew I was in trouble when I mentioned that I was reading the book to a friend who said something about there being a lot of sexual content in the book. I had no idea. Call me stupid, but I didn’t know all that. Yes, apparently I do live under a rock.

The Thorn Birds is basically the story of a family and it spans several generations, starting in New Zealand and moving to Australia and points all over the globe, including Rome and London. The novel starts when Meggie, the central character (or at least one of them) is 4 years old and continues until she’s well into her sunset years. Basically, if I had to boil the plot down to its simplest parts, I’d say that The Thorn Birds is a novel about obsession, namely Ralph’s with Meggie. But it’s also about the obsession with the land (Drogheda, the family farm, which is the Uncles obsession), with pain (Fee’s cold refusal to love anyone but her firstborn until it’s too late), and with God (Dane’s call to the priesthood). The basic plot is that Ralph, a priest in Australia, falls in love with Meggie when she’s just a child, even though he’s a priest and has taken a vow. Later, she ends up marrying a guy because he kind of reminds her of Ralph, who has since moved on and up in the Catholic church, thanks in part to the fact that he now owns her family’s farm and holdings. Desperately wanting a child and living far away from her family with a husband who isn’t there and only married her for her money, Meggie wants a child and eventually connives to get one from her husband. The daughter, Justine, is self-sufficient from the beginning and Meggie never really bonds with her. At some point, she and Ralph meet, give into their passions, and out that liason comes Dane. Ralph goes back to the church; Meggie goes to Drogheda where she raises the kids. Eventually, her son becomes a priest and she sends him to Ralph in Rome, never revealing Dane is his son. Eventually though, the truth comes out when Dane dies unexpectedly. Ralph dies, too. And basically, all that are left are the women. Cold. A little heartless and mercenary. The uncles are also around, but they’re never a strong force in the novel. The women and passion call all the shots. And I think that’s on purpose. The author wanted us to know that the women were the superior ones, even if they had to be cold and heartless to get there.

All that said, I kind of hated this book. Call me a prude, but I skipped a lot of the sexual parts. I didn’t need that or want to know all of that. I imagine the Catholic Church hated this book because they are potrayed as money-grubbing and not really caring about faith as much as getting their hands on some money. I do appreciate that McCullough discusses faith as something that isn’t easy (Ralph’s struggle), but under that I feel there’s some resentment in the author (or at least the narration of the story) toward the Church and God. I detested Fee, Meggie’s mother, as a character and never understood her. The character of Frank doesn’t serve much purpose after awhile, except as a plot point that both Meggie and Fee pursued men that were obsessions to them. Meggie is hard to figure out and becomes hard and nearly unrecognizable as the sweet little girl in the beginning. Ralph disappoints me with his lack of faith and strength. He’s weak.

The Thorn Birds probably won’t be a book I choose to read again. But at least it’s off the list now!

Number of books read in 2010 so far: 5


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