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.
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.