Book review: The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough

The Thorn Birds

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Yes, I know this review is about 35 years overdue, but this is a book I somehow never got around to reading before (nor did I see the TV series or the recent Korean film). Now that I am educating myself about Australian “culture” I decided it was time to request a library copy of The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough.

As another reviewer wrote very cheekily, “There are tragically few literary works devoted to the heady cocktail of existential angst, clerical coitus and Aussie topography.”

But The Thorn Birds covers all those bases very thoroughly, which is a great relief after the morose masculine Beckettian-ness of John Banville’s The Sea.

This is an epic family saga stretching from 1915 to 1965, set mostly in Outback Australia with forays to elsewhere in Australia, to the Vatican and London by the end, with even a pass through Tobruk in the middle. Very dramatic – drought and flood, feast and famine, war and peace, life and death, priests and passion, etc. There were still some morose masculine characters but they moved into the background, with the only woman of each generation dominating the story. (It is somewhat difficult to have a saga through the generations without ANY women in the picture.)

Here’s a more serious but interesting discussion of Colleen McCullough’s other books by a blogger in Toronto. I think I’ll try the Masters of Rome series.