Book: The Thorn Birds
OK, fine. There. Apparently I found a romance novel that I like! Actually, I kind of loved it (she says slightly sheepishly). (Does this qualify as a romance? I’m unclear on the sub-genre here. Generational drama? Whatever genre The Shell Seekers is, this is the same kind of book. Which is good.)
Melodrama. Forbidden love. A multi-generational family story. A big thick chunkster of a book. It was the perfect book for my mood and to kick off the Great Time Of Summer Reading. I’m picky about my summer reading and this was exactly what I wanted.
I did not expect to enjoy this as much as I did. I vaguely remember my mom (I think?) watching the mini-series in the early 80s, but I was pretty little and so didn’t watch it. All I that came to mind when I thought of it was big poofy hair, some kind of melodramatic romance story, and 1980s mini-series period costumes. Which is awesome enough on its own, right? But I was so ignorant; I had no idea it was set in Australia, nor that it involved the forbidden love between a beautiful young girl and an older priest. So both of those things made it even more awesome.
I can usually tell within the first chapter if I’m going to like a big book like this, and I was so pleasantly surprised. The writing was not overly florid — it was rather understated, which made it possible for me to bear the romance factor. Actually I really liked the romance, since most of the story focused on the people and the family and the sheep and all that. Just enough romance to keep me interested. Low on the mush, high on the longing. My kind of romance. (in books, that is)
Long (long) story short: The Cleary family moves to Australia to work on the family sheep farm, Drogheda, a huge operation. Father Ralph de Bricassart meets the family at the station and immediately is taken with young Meggie Clearly, the only daughter among many sons. They form an instant bond, and over the years this develops into a deep yearning love, which of course can never be consummated, since Ralph is a priest. Much melodrama later, things get resolved. Sort of. (If you want to read the book, and you don’t want to know what happens, stop reading here. Just go get the book RIGHT NOW and read it for yourself!)
I got way more involved in the family than I was prepared for. Each character was flawed in some deep way, and yet they were all deeply relatable. I liked the fact that there were very few cookie-cutter characters. Each was complicated in their own way. Meggie was empathic and feminine and idealistic, but also defiant and had an iron will (when it finally surfaced). Ralph was prideful and conflicted, tender but arrogant and ambitious, capable of deep love but confused as to where this love should be placed. The minor characters were well-done as well, if not as fleshed out. Each had their own tragedies. A beloved son, lost to violence. A husband, unsure of his wife’s love. Many deaths. Broken (shredded, badly mended) hearts.
And oh, thank GOD (literally) that Meggie and Ralph finally got together! Even if only for a brief time. I wasn’t sure it was going to happen, and it was so satisfying when it did. Things did not move quickly in this book, and I really appreciated that. I like a big thick book that takes its time telling the story, filling in all the details of the life of the family as a whole, and not focused solely on the romance. But the romance was pretty good, I have to say. And Meggie’s daughter, Justine, had a pretty good drawn-out romance herself. I also appreciated that one, and liked Justine as a character as well, although I didn’t at first.
So overall, I was really, really happy with this book. I could get fairly lost in it; it wasn’t so demanding that I had to work at reading it, but it wasn’t pure fluff. It was good family drama with a strong romance thrown in. The writing was decent — not so good that I completely disconnected from the world, but good enough that I wanted to keep reading and didn’t have to roll my eyes every few pages. I actually appreciated the fact that there was a slight distance from the characters — when the tragedies happened, I didn’t cry, although I was a bit sad. Mostly I predicted each of the tragedies and so was faintly bored by them, which helped keep the tears in check too.
About these tragedies. Towards the end, they start piling up pretty good, and they were so predictable. It was like: foreshadow, 4-5 pages, then event. Foreshadow, a few more pages, event. Very predictable and no surprises, which was sort of disappointing — I could have done without the hints. I also felt it was overkill (sorry) for Dane to die. I get why — the epic tragedy, the ‘paying back’ for what Meggie and Ralph ‘stole’ from God. But I think the book would have been fine without that death. I think Justine and Rainer could have gotten together just as well without Justine falling apart. I also hated the way Ralph died. Couldn’t he have finally left the Church and lived out his days with Meggie? Didn’t they realize, finally, that God created their love and that it was a defiance to not enjoy each other? I know the Church doesn’t see it that way, but I do.
I wondered about the subtle criticism of the priesthood, in this book. I’m not sure that the author has a very high opinion of what the Church demands of her priests. I kind of agree; celibacy doesn’t seem to be having very good results within the Catholic Church. I don’t know the answer there, but it just seemed like such a waste of a good man that he could fully commit neither to the Church nor Meggie, and so everyone lost.
Still, although I was disappointed with some of the not-subtle plot events, I really truly enjoyed this book and am so glad I read it. I TOTALLY have to see the mini-series now. Terri tried to tell me that it only looks good on old TVs (we have a new TV in the bedroom; she forgot that we have an old one in the living room…). Then she tried to tell me that Netflix didn’t have it; she “already checked for me.” Right. I got the hint. I still put it in the queue, and I fully intend to watch it fairly soon, alone (apparently). With a box of Kleenex and perhaps some bonbons.