The Thorn Birds: A Book Review And Short Summary

Of all of Colleen McCullough's novels, The Thorn Birds made the greatest impact on my ideas of what a great novel should be. I was drawn into the story and could not put it down until I finished it a week later. McCullough takes a turbulent cast of characters and places them in many different scenes throughout the world, but the most important parts of her book take place in Australia. McCullough was born and raised in Australia, but she studied neurology abroad and went on to teach the subject at Yale Medical School. McCullough writing career has spanned over four decades, and she has covered a wide variety of topics such as medical crimes and the Roman Empire. However, The Thorn Birds is most arguably her best and most powerful novel of all time.


The story begins in New Zealand at the turn of the twentieth century when Meghann Cleary and her poor family are struggling to make ends meet. Meghann's mother has a dark secret about the birth of her first son, Frank, who also happens to be her favorite child in comparison to the others. Meghann is treated the worse out of all the children because she is a girl and her mom's actions indicate that boys have "more worth". After several years of struggle in New Zealand, Meghan's family moves to Australia to help their elderly aunt, Mary Carson, run a sheep station in the Outback. Their lives improve economically and socially with the introduction of Ralph de Bricassart, a kindhearted Roman Catholic priest that has a soft spot for Meghann. This is the beginning of a golden period on Meghann's life when she is finally getting the attention she deserves and craves, and Ralph sees no problem in giving these things to Meghann because she is still a little girl. However, as she becomes older their association because more scandalous and Mary Carson become more jealous. Upon Carson's death she bequeaths her estate to Ralph, which prompts him to leave the presence of Meghann to pursue more prestigious positions in the Catholic Church.

I absolutely love great books!
I absolutely love great books!

Ralph and Megan

The story between Ralph and Meggie is very timeless because it deals with forbidden love and wanting what we cannot have. Even though the two eventually give into their carnal desires, they can are never able to have a relationship. Interestingly, it is Meghann who makes herself suffer and yearn for Ralph for many years, while he goes on to pursue his great career in the church. Ralph is obsessed with becoming the "perfect priest," but he learns after his week with Meggie he can never be "perfect"' Ralph continues to strive to be a better priest and his love for Meggie helps him become a more understanding one.

I guess I found this book so interesting because through history, and even today some women will put their lives on hold yearning for a man, but will the ever man do that? Most of the time he will not. Meggie desires to unattainable because Ralph is the only person that has truly ever loved her, even though he will not give up the priesthood for her. Meghann's mother neglected her as a child, and they only begin to have a relationship later in life when the two realize they have more in common than they ever thought they would. Talk about history repeating itself with mom and daughter having illicit affairs, but you can read the novel to figure out what I mean about that because I do not want to give too much away.

McCullough does a wonderful job with researching the historical facts of her books and I actually feel that I am transported to the times and places where Ralph and Meghann "lived". Meghann's husband Luke is a very infuriating character, but it is interesting to see how he comes into the mix throughout the story. McCullough deals with many believable and human issues, which is why her books continue to be popular and well received since the first publication of The Thorn Birds in 1977. Once again I encourage you to read this book if you like good historical fiction and even though this book does not have the classic happy ending, it has much promise and hope for the future in the way this story comes full circle.

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Comments 35 comments

ahmu profile image

ahmu 8 years ago

nice book review u do


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 8 years ago from Southern California, USA Author

Thank you Ahmu!


desert blondie profile image

desert blondie 8 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen

If you just read this (your post doesn't say when you read it) good for you! wonderful to know that this older book still has fans! I loved this book, must have read it 4 times it's first ten years out. Had to keep buying new copies as I'd give away the one I'd just finished to some friend who'd never read it! For me it was as powerful a book as Gone With The Wind had been in the 1930s. Great to be reminded of it again!


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 8 years ago from Southern California, USA Author

I read the book when I was seventeen, but it is just timeless for me. This book got me started on reading Colleen McCullough books, but I have to say that The Thorn Birds is the best of all of them. Gone With The Wind is also another book I loved, no one has been able to write a Southern classic close to what Mitchell achieved.


countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 7 years ago from Washington, USA

I agree with you. For a man who loves me and I am married to, I would leave everything(job, career and anything else) to be everything that the guy wants me to be.


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 7 years ago from Southern California, USA Author

Thanks for reading and commenting countrywomen. The Thorn Bird's is one of the most engrossing books I have ever read, and the movie is pretty good too. I would recommend checking these out sometime.


hubber-2009 profile image

hubber-2009 7 years ago from India

i prefer this novel because the character development is much more intense.


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 7 years ago from Southern California, USA Author

Yes the book is much better, I agree with you.


C.S.Alexis profile image

C.S.Alexis 7 years ago from NW Indiana

I read this many years ago but like you SweetiePie, I found it spell binding. True how it pulls you in and holds you.


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 7 years ago from Southern California, USA Author

I agree, it has been thirteen years since I read the Thorn Birds and I still love it to this day. In my opinion this is one of Colleen McCullough's best books because I have read a few others, but the Thorn Birds will always be my favorite. Morgan's Run was well researched because she captured the details of the grueling voyage on a ship to the penal colony in Australia, but the problem was I felt like I was in prison with Morgan. I enjoyed the latter part of the book when Morgan is finally settled on Norfolk Island and remarries. The Touch was also good, but many of the themes were reminiscient of the Thorn Birds. I have noticed authors often repeat similar themes throughout their books, and the originals tend to be my favorites. I still like McCullough's writing tremendously though.


sunbrite profile image

sunbrite 6 years ago from USA

One of my favorite books! Great hub, thanks!


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 6 years ago from Southern California, USA Author

I truly love it too sunbrite!


Eileen Hughes profile image

Eileen Hughes 6 years ago from Northam Western Australia

sweetie pie, I loved this when it was on TV, so I think it would have been even better reading in book form as they leave so much out on movies.


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 6 years ago from Southern California, USA Author

Hi Eileen,

It is one of the great TV series, but I still wish they had tried to film it in Australia where the story was supposed to have taken place. I feel silly because as a teen I really did not pick up on that because with the way Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward spoke I thought they were trying to sound Australian, but all of these years later now I realize it. Coleeen McCullough is an outstanding writer to be sure.


connie5277 6 years ago

I saw this original tv miniseries when it first aired in 1983... just a few months pregnant with my son... I then read the book... what a beautiful love story.. and one that I can relate to in my own life. If you have not read the book or really watched the movie/miniseries.. you have missed out on a wonderful tale of life, love and heartbreak


VivekSri 6 years ago

Not heard of that book, but sounds quite absorbing, will look for one, when i have time. this hub works.


sajni siyad 5 years ago

an awsome book!!!!!!!!!!!!!

i feel jealous of meggie . really!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 5 years ago from Southern California, USA Author

Sajni,

I think Meggie had a hard life, and I really would not be too jealous. Her daughter Justine, though not beautiful like Meggie, ended up being happier than most of the characters at the end of the novel.


Bokhari 5 years ago

Really loved the novel .. Too much tragedy , really moved my heart .. But the last para really intrigues me ..What exactly does the writer mean when she says that we know when we put a thorn in our breast , but still we do it ..........?


funky23 5 years ago from Deutschland

thank you your article is awesome


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 5 years ago from Southern California, USA Author

Bokhari,

I believe people are drawn to situations that they know are not healthy, but they partake of these anyway. Just like Maggie and Ralph's relationship, which was not all that healthy, but they could not keep away from it. Actually, I think Ralph and Maggie could have had the perfect relationship, if he had been willing to give up his obsession with the priesthood.

funky23,

This is one of my favorite books! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!

funky23


sam 5 years ago

great book


Fluffy77 profile image

Fluffy77 5 years ago from Enterprise, OR

Glad to see another Thorn birds fan here,I have liked them for years now. Such a bitter sweet story, beautiful really. Great review here, you did well in the history and explaining the main characters I thought.


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 5 years ago from Southern California, USA Author

Fluffy,

I read this book long ago, but it made an impact. Thanks for commenting!


ruffridyer 5 years ago from Dayton, ohio

I haven't read the book but did see the movie. It remianded me of the Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor movie The Sandpipers. He played a married priest in love with an artist. I wonder if the authur got the idea from that movie and just added a lot more detail.


Amna 5 years ago

What fascinated me the most in this book was of course, Meggie's character. How she suffered in her entire life. Her tremendous love towards her beloved - Ralph. And Ralph's same affection for Meggie, but how he preferred his career over his love, not because it's his true vocation, but because he has ambitions of getting a dominant position in priesthood and Meggie helped him achieve his desires.

How love and respect exists and stays alive even if the two are not together or married to each other. I guess I found this book so interesting because through history, and even today, many women will put their lives on hold just because of their beloved but I'm not sure if a man does that in return. In their case, I think they both were bound and just been unlucky to be with each other. The story was emotionally gripping and compelling.

I think thornbirds is a lesson of hope and encouragement for life that one day all sadness will pass, and something beautiful will come out of that pain.


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 5 years ago from Southern California, USA Author

That is a tremendously well thought out summary Anna. In the end I believe Justine, Meggie's daughter, lucked out when it came to love. She finally allowed herself to love the man she cared about, which is what Meggie would not allow herself. Luke was never good for Megan, but sometimes I wish she could have bet an eligible man she cared about as much as Ralph.


Irene 5 years ago

From the most beginning , I didn't know any novel of Colleen McCullough. But when I searched and read it,I was so fond of it. Another Gone with Wind.


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 5 years ago from Southern California, USA Author

Very true Irene!


sofs profile image

sofs 4 years ago

'Thorn birds' was my favorite novel growing up...'Tim' her second book is also about forbidden love, but did not make an impact as Thorn Birds did.

Ralph is that elusive lover whom women intuitively know is beyond their reach, but are still drawn towards him like moths to a fire. I like the way she ends the novel when divine justice is rendered and Ralph is a mere mortal praying at the funeral of his son..who is in every way pure and untainted the striking contrast to him. Arresting pictures, Coleen McCullough creates.. I guess I read it a good 20 years ago and I can remember the details so well, even today..A great writer and 'Thorn birds' was indeed her master piece.


GarnetBird profile image

GarnetBird 4 years ago from Northern California

also a well acted movie!!


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 4 years ago from Southern California, USA Author

Hi Sofs,

I believe the Thorn Birds will remain her most memorable novel, and it is certainly my favorite. I also liked The Touch, but really could not get in Morgan's Run.

Hi GarnetBird,

Richard Chamberlin is a god actor in every movie he is in. I like Rachel Ward as well.


Liberty 4 years ago

Do you guys know other material about the Tho rn birds? I am going to write my graduating paper about this novel and i need more material about it. i love it so much.


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 4 years ago from Southern California, USA Author

@Liberty,

You might want to get in contact with the author Colleen McCullough through her website, and see if she will do an author interview for you.


D5 3 years ago

Great book, great series

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