Sunday, November 20, 2011

REVIEW: The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

The Thorn Birds is the story of the Clearys, a poor family of ranchers/shearers who uproot from their home in New Zealand to take over Drogheda, the most prominent sheep ranch in the Australian Outback which is owned by Mary, sister of family patriarch Paddy Cleary.  Thorn Birds follows the Clearys for three generations but the heart of the story is Meggie Cleary who grows from a child to womanhood, and her forbidden love for Catholic Priest Ralph de Bricassart who is torn between his love for Meggie and his desire to ascend to the greatest heights of the Catholic Church.

This might be the best book that I have read this year.  I fell in love with the Cleary family as they start their new life in Australia on Drogheda.  Mary Carson, their benefactress is one of the most malevolent old women I have ever encountered in literature and it was great entertainment reading the exchanges between her and Ralph.  I felt sorry for Meggie being a little girl of 10 and virtually ignored by the rest of the family  She develops a bond with Father Ralph almost immediately upon meeting which will last a lifetime.  With Meggie being 10 and Father Ralph being 28 when they met, at first it is a bond of tenderness but as Meggie grows into womanhood it develops into so much more.  As much as Father Ralph wants to be with Meggie, he cannot ignore his vows he made to God.  The romance between these two is where I think the sticking point would be for most people.  Meggie is just a little girl when they meet and Father Ralph is a priest almost 20 years her senior but the love story here is beautifully done and not creepy at all.  McCullough evolves the love between the two over time and the romantic relationship between the two doesn't heat up until Meggie is almost 18.

The picture Colleen McCullough paints of the harsh life in the Australian Outback with the droughts and fires, camaraderie between the ranchers and shearers and the back breaking work it takes to make a place like Drogheda a success pulled me right in.  I was rooting for the Cleary family through every tribulation and heartbreak they faced (and there were many of them).The story does not stop with Meggie and Ralph although they are still involved all the way through.  It also devotes sections to Paddy (Meggie's father), Luke-the handsome shearer who comes to stay on Drogheda, Fee (Meggie's mother) and Dane and Justine (Meggie's children).  Although the parts on Meggie and Ralph are the best developed, the sections on the others are equally as fascinating. 

Honestly, I could write all day and not do this book justice in a review.  I just really LOVED it.  I really came to care for each and every member of the Cleary family.  I fell in love with Ralph de Bricassart (okay that weirded me out a bit-getting all school girl crush-like over a Catholic priest, even if he is fictional...) and I felt like I was in the Australian Outback right along with the Clearys or in the Vatican with Ralph or on the London stage with Justine.  There is really nothing more than I can say than this book is fan-freaking-tastic and if you haven't read it do it!  You won't be disappointed.  As if reading the awesomeness that is this book wasn't enough, I hopped on YouTube and watched the first half of the 1983 mini-series.  I recommend this also.  While the mini-series does leave out some of the characters/events that happen in the book it is still well done and the casting is spot on.

 This book is from my own personal library.


  1. Lovely review, Holly. I read this book years ago and it remains one of my favourites to this day.

  2. I have had this book on my bookshelf for years and have just never gotten around to reading it. After reading your review I am going to try to get to it soon!

  3. I read this book years ago after watching the mini series with my mom. I loved both! Great review!

  4. This was the first Colleen McCullough book I ever read. I've read most of what she's written and have never been disappointed. I love her character development and attention to historical detail.

  5. I also discovered this book only this year and it definitely resonated with me. I really really felt for the characters and fell for the "wild" Australia. I have the mini-series but haven't watched it yet, will have to do so!

  6. This review was perfectly timed. I have been having so much trouble lately deciding what to read next, but you have made this book sound so enjoyable I will have a look at it when I am finsihed with my current read.