Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

“There is a legend about a bird which sings only once in it's life, more beautifully than any other creature on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves it's nest, it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it has found one. Then, it impales it's breast on the longest, sharpest thorn. But as it is dying, it rises above it's own agony to outsing the Lark and the Nightingale. The Thornbird pays it's life for that one song, and the whole world stills to listen, and God in his heaven smiles, as it's best is brought only at the cost of great pain; Driven to the thorn with no knowledge of the dying to come. But when we press the thorn to our breast, we know, we understand.... and still, we do it."

“The bird with the thorn in its breast, it follows an immutable law; it is driven by it knows not what to impale itself, and die singing. At the very instant the thorn enters there is no awareness in it of the dying to come; it simply sings and sings until there is not the life left to utter another note. But we, when we put the thorns in our breasts, we know. We understand. And still we do it. Still we do it.”

I picked The Thorn Birds for the Birth Year Reading Challenge. Though published in 1977, it was still topping the the New York Times Bestsellers list a year later in 1978. The Thorn Birds narrates the story of Clearys from 1912 to 1969'of events in their lives during the two wars, deaths in their family, birth of new children, floods, draughts, love and pain. Though there are ups and downs in their lives, the story is predictable. This post may contain spoilers.

The thorn birds is basically the story of Meggie 'Meghann Cleary' only daughter of the huge Cleary family of sons in New Zealand. One would think an only daughter in a huge family of sons would be pampered and spoilt. But poor Meggie! All she probably wants in this world is somebody to love her. I can picture Fiona Cleary at the worktable working away without being hardly present there. Why doesn't Fee (as Fiona is called) do the one thing that would have come naturally to any mother? Why wouldn't she love? If she did love anybody, it is her first born Frank. There is trouble brewing at home, with constant differences between Frank and Paddy, Fee's husband. I liked Frank. But it is sad he disappears before even a quarter of the story has begun.

The Clearys move to Australia on Mary Carson's (Paddy Cleary's sister) invitation as they are the only heirs to Drogheda sheep outstation after her death. Clearys work in Drogheda as workmen rather than her future heirs. In Australia, Father Ralph meets Meggie as a nine year old and takes an immediate liking to her. He feels it is safe to love Meggie as she is a child. Isn't Ralph misguided? Will children remain children forever? Meggie loves the only person in her life who clearly cares for her. But Ralph is 'married to the church.' 'Did all men do that, love some inanimate thing more than they could love a woman?'

Mary Carson's trick with the will reminded me of George Eliot's Middlemarch. Meggie marries Luke O'Neill only because he looks like Ralph. But why does Luke O'Neill marry Meggie?

'Is it so much to ask of a man, to be needed and wanted by him?' 'you are all the same, great big hairy moths bashing yourselves to pieces after a silly flame behind a glass so clear your eyes don't see it. And if you do manage to blunder your way inside the glass to fly into the flame, you fall down burned and dead.'

O'Neill disappears from the story after a while. What happened to him? Is he going to cut cane all his life? Why haven't any of the other Clearys married? Even Ralph disappears from the story line after a point.

Justine, Meggie's daughter, is the most interesting character in the story. Rejected by her mother from her birth she grows up independent. Justine's conversation with Rainer in interesting.

Is it strange that she becomes what her mother calls a monster? You would think that Meggie would learn from her mother's mistakes. If Fee had shown little bit love, little bit care probably Meggie's life would have been different. It is really sad that Meggie does exactly what her mother does keep her daughter bereft of love. Don't we ever learn? What's with Meggie clamouring about 'the men in my life- my man and my son'? What about her daughter? I understand for all parents say, they have their favourites, isn't it that the reason, that they try to make it up with their not so favourites. Do they have to be blatantly partial? Oh ya! Everyone choose their own thorn, own poison, own pain- Fee, Meggie and Justine. For Justine it is her mothers love that is the unattainable goal-the thorn.

The story is too long. It could have been cut short by half. I was least interested in the Second World war bit. None of the Cleary brothers characters are developed. So much so that I don't remember how many brothers Meggie has. McCullogh gives interesting details into sheep stations in Australia- Sheep shearing, cane-cutting, droughts, floods, storms, dust and flies.

Meggie's story occupies more than a three fourths of the book. The final one fourth is Justine's story. To write a tome of 560 pages of tiny print with just two, okay, three main characters is no mean deal and to sustain interest is the difficult task. It is a bit melodramatic- god taking back what these women stole. If there was a god, do you think he would be playing such mean tricks. Grow up girls! I understand this book making an interesting melodramatic Television mini-series! Oh the thorns of forbidden love! Why should any love be forbidden as long as it is love?


bookdout said...

You make some interesting points. I think the melodrama is very 70's.

Thanks for sharing your review for the Eclectic Reader Challenge

Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

J.G. said...

I read this when it first came out and this is how I remember it, though the details had faded with time. Definitely a 70's style "romance." The series was helped by a very sexy Father Ralph, Richard Chamberlain.

Your candle is burning in the BYRC! Thanks for reading!

srivalli said...

Thanks Shelleyrae and J G for stopping by!