Modern Classics: The Thorn Birds

There are many great novels about love and Thorn Birds (1977) by Colleen McCullough is one of them. Thorn Birds is a saga about the Cleary family. The main character Paddy Cleary (a farmer), receives a job offer from his wealthy sister and is leaving New Zealand with his family to make a new start in Australia. This will change everyone’s lives.

Meggie is the only daughter among the many sons of Paddy and his wife Fiona. As a child she meets the man who will become love of her life: a Catholic priest, Ralph de Brikassart. He helps the Clearys to settle down in Australia and eventually becomes Meggie’s best friend (despite the age difference). As Meggie grows up, her feelings for Ralph change…

Gathering all her courage, she confesses her love to Ralph, who claims he is a servant of God and Church and shall not leave his path. Although Meggie and Ralph cannot be together, love will find a way into their lives.

Why the title? There is a legend about a bird who sings only once in its life while impaling itself on the thorn tree. The bird dies in pain, singing the most beautiful song in the world. The author has made her characters thorn birds: Fiona (Meggie’s mother) loved only once but had to get married to another against her will. Frank, a family outsider who runs away to become a boxer is later convicted for murder. Father Ralph de Brikassart is torn apart between his forbidden feelings for Meggie and his ambitions for the Church. Justine O’Neill (Meggie’s daughter) is hot-tempered, independent and self-assured but afraid of love and tenderness. Everyone suffers and faces many challenges, taking life lessons with self-confidence, courage, and both moral and physical strength. Whatever happens, the Clearys and their children do not complain: they are proud. Maybe it is for their pride they have to pay, since happiness and sadness always go together in the novel.

Thorn Birds is a family saga, it is mostly about relationships between brothers and sisters, parents and children. It is interesting to see how these relationships develop over generations, how the children look for their purpose in life and parents come to terms with giving them the freedom of choice.

The setting is wonderfully developed as well: beautiful, wild and colorful Australia, with its rain and dry seasons, its nature’s power and beauty, and its infinite variety. McCullough describes the lives of farmers and workers, simple people, and bring the characters closer to the reader. For those who like family relationships, moral conflicts, romance and love’s challenges, this is the right novel.

One thought on “Modern Classics: The Thorn Birds

  1. anninatroxler

    My mom has the DVD and I watched one of the discs but I never read the book. I thought it was cheesy, but as you describe the novel, it seems pretty different from the TV production. I’ll give it a try this summer, as I was looking for love stories with interesting scenarios. Australia is great in books! Thanks!

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