The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
25 April 2000


Helpless is what I am feeling now. Not despairing helpless, just quiet, like I don't really want to do anything. I am happy not to have a chaperone for my thoughts at the moment, as they are all very interesting. Such an amazing story! And so long. It spans over fifty years. Each one passes almost unnoticed, and then you wonder where all the people have gone. It's a very real story, too. When I closed the book, I felt old - as if I had actually lived the painful life of the main character. McCullough has shown such self-control - she is truly merely the recorder of the story, rather than the creator. Oh, she gave it its first life, but that's all a story needs. After that it becomes almost self-sufficient, feeding off the author.

What provoked that remark about how "the author is the observer" was a thought about the pain in the main character's life. She - her name is Meggie - has every person she loves stripped from her during the course of the book. First there is her best friend, at age five - then her favourite brother - her new baby brother whom she loves as if he's her own son - her illegitimate lover, a priest (he leaves her many times, and hurts her every time) - her father - another brother - her husband - her son. In the end there's no one except her mother, daughter and son-in-law. And yet the book ends on a note of hope.

This is, I think, the essence of The Thorn Birds, although you really have to read it to know it:

"There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves the nest it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it has found one. Then, singing among the savage branches, it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest spine. And, dying, it rises above its own agony to out-carol the lark and the nightingale. 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."


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