Title: The Thorn Birds
Author: Colleen McCullough
Page Count: 578
Damn, this book is impressive. I’ve read that it’s been called the Australian Gone with the Wind, and I can see that. To be fair, I haven’t actually read Gone with the Wind (it’s on my list of stuff to read when I retire along with War and Peace and a couple of others), but I have seen the movie and I know enough to see that the comparison seems fair.
It’s epic in scale, but it doesn’t have the huge, sprawling cast of characters that you might expect if you were reading epic fantasy. Instead, it focusses on a single family that lives and works on a farm, following a single main character through time. It was a bit like Stoner by John Williams in that respect, in that the minutae of the plot was formed mostly by the small things that happen in life.
Of course, both books are also pretty bleak, and there are some pretty tense moments throughout this one including a memorable fire that hit hard and which was probably the most brutal fire that I’ve read about, in terms of the writing if not in terms of the death count. There’s also the fact that because this book is so long and so detailed, the author takes the time to set up the characters before bumping them off.
There’s also poor little Meggie’s relationship with her husband, who basically doesn’t give a damn about her, and with a priest called Ralph, who loves her but who can’t be with her because he’s a member of the Catholic Church and that sort of thing is generally frowned upon. That makes this something of a tragedy, especially because most of the bad stuff that happens wouldn’t have happened if he’d just ditched his faith and shacked up with her. But I guess that would have made for a pretty boring book.
We also have the coming of the Second World War, and we get to see how that impacts life in Drogheda, the farm that I couldn’t help thinking of as Degobah. Because the farm was a vital resource in the conflict, providing vital food, leather and other goods during the backdrop of a global war, they could only afford to spare two of the men in the family. And of course, they come back very changed by what they’ve seen.
All of this is good stuff, but the real reason why I picked this book up was that I knew there was a character in it called Dane and that he was part of the inspiration for my name. My dad wanted to name me after Dain of the Iron Hills from The Hobbit, and my mum said Dane was okay as long as they normalised the spelling, like in The Thorn Birds.
All in all then, I was pretty happy with this, although it did take me forever to get through it. Part of that is down to the nature of the book though, and I definitely think it’s more engaging and enjoyable if you take it a little at a time instead of trying to binge your way through it. I read it about twenty pages at a time most evenings and stretched it out like that, which also meant that I was experiencing the story over time. A good read.