This past week author Colleen McCullough died in Australia at the age of 77. Although she wrote a number of books, she is best known for her novel “The Thorn Birds”. The book is described as a “multi-generational Australian romance”. Having read it years ago, I would categorize it as an in-depth character study of a girl, Meggie Cleary, who grows up ignored by the people who should be closest to her.
The novel works its way through three generations, which allows readers to see how her parents met and married, which in turn shaped their children’s lives. The author seems to have drawn from her personal life a bit. She was not close to either of her parents. Her mother was distant and detached. And like Meggie, she lost a brother at a young age.
What Colleen McCullough excelled at was developing unique characters, and showing how one person’s life affected another’s. The relationships I found most interesting in the novel were of Paddy and Fee (Meggie’s parents), Fee and her oldest son Frank, and Aunt Mary and Father Ralph. I also enjoyed the vivid descriptions of the landscape in Australia, and of life on a sheep station.
The book was made into a television mini-series in 1983, and Ms. McCullough hated it. If you’re looking for a bittersweet love story, watch the mini-series. But if you really want to know the complete story, and what drove the character of Meggie to the choices she made, read the book.