Thursday, 2 October 2014

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

Oh, these books, these books that are hugely popular and overwrought and, well, interesting, but not enough to really grab me. I never resented reading this book, it moved along quickly, but in the end? I'm not sure it had anything that really took possession of me while I was reading it, nor anything that will really stick with me.

Reading The Thornbirds was part of my long-term attempt to read the BBC Big Read list, and perhaps because of that, this and The Shell Seekers are linked in my mind, since they both appear on the list. They're both sprawling stories of women who can never be with the man they love. The characterization of the less-likeable characters was better in the Thornbirds than it was in The Shell Seekers, who had real caricatures for the children born by the wrong man. But the loveable characters in The Shell Seekers were more strongly drawn, drawing me in to the story in a way that I didn't really feel with the Thorn Birds.

Love and loss on the Australian plains. Wanting someone you can never have. Losing everything, simply because you love it. These are the major themes of the book, and they're just too...overt for me. I prefer a bit of subtlety, not being whacked over the head repeatedly that THIS SHOULD EVOKE EMOTION.

Sometimes I think I dig in my heels at those moments and think "You can't tell me how to feel!" Possibly just part of my overall stubbornness.

So, for me, The Thornbirds was fun to read, once. But it'll only be once. It's a sprawling family story, of the sort I usually enjoy, but there wasn't enough there to draw me back in a second time.

Oh, and another comparison with The Shell Seekers, which is something I didn't like very much in either of them - they both buy entirely into the idea of the maternal imagination. When pregnant by the "wrong man," the pregnancies are terrible (not because of stress, but because it's the wrong semen?), and the children are strange. Even if the mothers bring them up lovingly, they are strange and different (The Thorn Birds) or selfish and greedy (The Shell Seekers.) On the other hand, being pregnant by the "right man" creates a child that is fantastic in every way. Nothing needs to be done by them, that right-guy sperm and the maternal imagination creates a child that, by the time they pop out, are already sparkling specimens of humanity.

I'm not fond of this "marked before birth to be unlikeable" stuff.

Read as part of The BBC Big Read


  1. I've never read the book, but I wonder if you might enjoy this review from Classic Trash:

    I love that whole series of reviews; all I know about The Thorn Birds I learned from it!