Title: The Thorn Birds
Author: Colleen McCullough
Published: Avon, 1977
Where I Got It: My mom gave me this book.
Summary from Goodreads: Powered by the dreams and struggles of three generations, THE THORN BIRDS is the epic saga of a family rooted in the Australian sheep country. At the story's heart is the love of Meggie Cleary, who can never possess the man she desperately adores, and Ralph de Bricassart, who rises from parish priest to the inner circles of the Vatican...but whose passion for Meggie will follow him all the days of his life.
Why I Read It: My mom and grandma loved this book when it came out. A few years ago (4? 5?), my mom, who is totally not a reader, gave me a copy. I picked it up a few times and set it aside. One time I even read about 2/3 of it before stopping. I just couldn't finish. This year I signed up to participate in Roof Beam Reader's TBR Pile Challenge and wanted to finally finish--mostly because this book obviously meant enough to my mom for her to buy me a copy.
My thoughts: I decided to tackle this book first for the TBR Pile Challenge because of my mom. I wasn't getting any pressure from her, but I felt like I needed to finally read the novel. I read the entire thing in six days. It's not a particularly short book. I just couldn't put it down. Maybe it was a right book, right time kind of thing. Who knows?
The book starts out on Meggie's fourth birthday. She is the youngest of several children and the only girl. Her family is fairly poor, so they tend to get practical gifts, like clothes and shoes. Except this time Meggie's mom bought her a beautiful doll that Meggie had seen on her only trip into town. Meggie absolutely treasured that doll. The opening chapters do a wonderful job of setting up the family dynamic--the mother works all the time on the home, the father is lord and master, the eldest brother has a great anger in him. It's a dynamic that is explored throughout the book. We all have our reasons for doing what we do and acting the way we act--they're just not always apparent to the outside world until much later. That's the case here.
The big plot is Meggie falling in love with a priest. That's what this book is known for, right? I loved the dynamic between the priest and Meggie! He was about eighteen years older than her and first met her when she was a child. So, in some ways he always thought of her in that light. But she grew up and became a lovely woman and he was attracted to her. He struggled with how to honor his vows and also honor with woman he loved. (I was raised Protestant, and converted to Catholicism, so I am used to pastors being able to marry; however, my eventual children will be raised Catholic and I am kind of curious to see how they react to this story...) However, it's not the love that is the main point. It's the pain caused by the love, by the things we want most in life, that is the point.
When she novel shifted focus to Justine and Dane, I very nearly lost interest. Justine is really abrasive and I didn't like her. A couple of things seemed to come out of left field. But they eventually make sense. Honestly, one of those things almost made me yell out when I was reading the novel at work (I work in a library frequented by graduate students, so we keep things very quiet...). Then the last passage beautifully ties it all together and is the reason I give the book four stars:
Each of us has something within us which won't be denied, even if it makes us scream aloud to die. We are what we are, that's all. Like the old Celtic legend of the bird with the thorn in its breast, singing its heart out and dying. Because it has to, its self-knowledge can't affect or change the outcome, can it? Everyone singing his own little song, convinced it's the most wonderful song the world has ever heard. Don't you see? We create our own thorns, and never stop to count the cost. All we can do is suffer the pain, and tell ourselves it was well worth it.
Life is pain, but we endure.
It wasn't the best written novel in the world. And that's fine. I wasn't expecting it to be. But the story! Oh, the story definitely sweeps you along and sometimes you just can't breathe.