This isn’t a story of forbidden love between a girl from Australia and a priest. “The Thorn Birds” by Colleen McCullough is so much more.
To be honest, Maggie and Ralph de Bricassart’s love story plotline was the one that fascinated me the least in this book. If anything, it even annoyed me a little. Reading it now, when romantic school girl’s days are long behind me, I saw clearly that their relationship wouldn’t have worked even if they’d or to stay on the objective side, Ralph, had chosen Maggie over a career in the Vatican.
The storyline that did fascinate me – and it doesn’t let go after I’ve read the book – is the one of Fiona and Paddy. Maggie’s parents. In my eyes, even though I wouldn’t wish Fiona’s destiny for any woman, she impersonates an essence of femininity. She is strong, but not perfect. Moreover, she doesn’t strive for perfection. As a woman with intuition – and isn’t it the trait we attribute to “real women” – she concentrates on keeping yourself capable of moving on. She’s not a saint. She doesn’t come to realise many important things that would have made her life easier before it’s too late. Her attitude to her children wouldn’t win her a modern “best mother” award. Still, she is resilient, flexible, and adaptive. By moving forward through years and decades and accepting stoically what fate throws at her, keeping her inner self whole, she presents an amazing example of an honourable life.
Another thing that has irrevocably drawn me in, is Drogheda. The vast Australian sheep station, with its enormous lands, the number of sheep, which is hard to wrap one’s head around – one hundred twenty-five thousand! – demands those who work on it to give them all to its needs. Some people, Maggie’s brothers, devote their whole lives to the work on Drogheda, to serve it, to make it go on. I was enthralled by the descriptions of the station’s routines, the never-ending flow of duties, the old trees that outlived people, the flowers that coloured the yellow landscape, the drought… The Australian drought! Its description sent chills down my spine. I tried to imagine what it’s like when it doesn’t rain for years, and you have plants to water, human and animal mouths to feed, the household to maintain – and I still can’t. And if regular droughts weren’t enough, there is a risk of fire. A kind of fire that destroys everything on its way, and people can do so little to stop it.
Besides providing the readers with a sweeping family saga, the story of the Clearys stretching over several decades, and splashes of insights into the life behind the Vatican walls, the author has made us a priceless gift. She has let us into the world we otherwise would’ve never been able to enter. Of course, for those not living in Australia, nowadays there is a chance to visit some sheep stations in the Outback, to marvel at its majestic vastness during a short tour. But neither of us has an opportunity to travel in time and live through all phases of an Australian sheep station life cycle, not as it was decades ago.
“It was amazing how quickly the land mended; within a week little green shots of grass were poking out of the gluey morass, and within two months the roasted trees were coming into leaf. If the people were tough and resilient, it was because the land gave them no opportunity to be otherwise; those who were faint in heart or lacking a fanatical streak of endurance did not stay long in the Great Northwest.”
“The Thorn Birds” by Colleen McCullough is about tough and resilient people. It’s also about human toughness and resilience appearing in different shapes and forms – different for everyone in details, while remaining the same concept for all on the global scale.