The Thorn Birds – Colleen McCullough
Do you remember The Thorn Birds? I remember watching the television series, well my lasting image of it is Richard Chamberlain dressed in purple robes but more than that I cannot tell you.
Recently, however, a friend was clearing out books and lent me The Thorn Birds as she knew I hadn’t read it. I can’t say how it compares to the tv series, as I can’t remember any of the story from the small screen. However, I continued to see Father Ralph as a young Richard Chamberlain so clearly the casting had an impact. Colleen seemed to think otherwise, but then I was not even a teenager.
Regarding the book, I felt it could have been much shorter than it was – descriptions seemed to go on and on and although I could see what Colleen was aiming at, I couldn’t quite work out what should be cut. Perhaps if I knew the Australian countryside, the descriptions would not have seemed so long-winded (different to tedious). For all the detail, I was surprised at how quick a read the story was.
One thing I found fascinating was the insight into papal thinking. One generally knows about the network – the old school tie and having a mentor or sponsor is still the way to get ahead for most people (despite all the talk of equality and tickbox recruitment policies). The wider outlook of the papal hierarchy compared to the masses was striking giving credence to Karl Marx’s view that religion is the opium of the people. How do people trained ‘to follow orders’ become so open minded with little apparent input? That man is fallible was another strong recurring theme but surprising was the understanding of the papal superiors. Very refreshing and human!
What Collen manages to capture well is the harshness of growing up with limited resources and the lengths people would go to as well as the impact of war on families. The theme of siblings working against each other is strong and reminded me of the South African film, Katrina.
The Thorn Birds having been published in 1977 is still around, and for that stickability deserves a read. I’m pleased I did.