Sunday, January 10, 2010

Books of 2010: "The Thorn Birds"

I finished my first Book of 2010 tonight.
I reread - probably for the fourth time since discovering it as a young teen on Mommalah's bookshelf - Colleen McCullough's "The Thorn Birds."

This tale of a priest - Father Ralph de Bricassart - who falls in love with Meggie Cleary, who he's known since she was a young girl in the early-1900s Australia is sordid, heartbreaking and one of those books that Takes You There.

The book spans 54 years - 1915-1969 - and three generations of the Cleary clan, and takes place in the continent's sheep country. It's a hard life for Meggie, as the only female aside from her emotionally unavailable mother Fee. Ralph is her one bright spot, her one talisman that keeps her going, even when he leaves her for the priesthood's big show: The Vatican.

Though she marries Luke, a slight doppelganger of Ralph, the real love of her life will always be Ralph, who eventually fathers her beloved son Dane, who goes into the priesthood himself and tragically drowns soon after becoming ordained.
{Luke fathered Justine, the daughter Meggie never got along with.}

McCullough's writing is effortless to read and even though you know the love and attraction between Ralph and Meggie is morally wrong, is true love ever really wrong?

I don't think so.

Especially when the cover image is from the ABC mini-series and features Richard Chamberlain as Ralph and Rachel Ward as Meggie.
{I mean, Richard Chamberlain as Ralph de Bricassart? Who wouldn't?}

The series aired in March 1983 and was the second highest-rated mini-series behind "Roots." I saw parts of it as a teen, but never in its entirety.

Now, of course, I desperately want to rent it, not only to see Richard as Ralph, but to see if the translation from page to screen was a worthy translation because the book is that stellar.

When Ralph and Meggie finally consummate their years of passion, your heart almost bursts for them because, really, is anything really as horrible as unrequited love?

So when they finally are able to act on this love that has built and boiled under the surface, Ralph must leave to go back to Rome, never to be Meggie's again.

There's no happy ending for the two of them. Their passion-filled tryst at a beach side cabin is to be enough, no matter the pain that follows.

The book is brilliantly named after a mythical bird which is said to search from the moment it cracks through its egg for the perfect thorn to impale itself. Just before it dies, it sings the sweetest, most beautiful song.

"... One superlative song, existence the price. But the whole world stills to listen, and God in His heaven smiles. For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain ... or so says the legend."

Like that bird, Meggie and Ralph had their one chance to sing their beautiful song, and that was it.

It'd be a horrible book because of how tragic it is ... if it wasn't such an incredible, breathtaking story.

"The Thorn Birds" by Colleen McCullough.
Copyright 1977.
692 pages, paperback.

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