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This is a truly a great and classic novel. I do not bestow these oft-overused adjectives lightly. This is a story of deep, rich, and forbidden love, betrayal, tragedy, and ambition. This is a truly wonderful story set primarily in Australia, circa 1915 and then spanning several generations to the post World War II era. McCullough writes a sprawling story which primarily centers on the forbidden love between an extraordinary woman and a good but ambitious priest.
This is the story of the Cleary family, originally from Ireland, who emigrate first to New Zealand, and early on, to Australia. The young Cleary daughter, Meggie, falls in love with the local Catholic priest, Ralph de Briccasart, who is a good and ambitious man who certainly does nothing to encourage this love, but who certainly returns it as he regards Meggie as the daughter he can never have. As Meggie matures, he comes to regard her in a more romantic way. A great struggle arises between this love on the one hand ("the forbidden rose") and his ambition to become a Cardinal or perhaps more, on the other.
There is much, much, more to the story than this, however. The novel transports the reader to Australia, and makes that country a real place to those of us who have never been there. This is also the story of the struggles of the Cleary family, as they battle with, and come to love, the rich outback country of Australia. This is an extraordinarily authentic and moving story that any review (or at least this one) can only fail to do justice.
McCullough's prose is simply outstanding, and her characters crackle with realism--they become utterly real people and the reader will become swept away with this wonderful story. The storyline never drags, and at no point does this novel ever fail to completely capture the reader's attention. This novel is not only a classic; it is a ripping good read! If you have not yet enjoyed this novel, you are in for a wonderful reading experience.
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on August 19, 2000
The Thorn Birds, written by Colleen McCullough, in my opinion is the greatest romance novel of all time. The character of Meggie Cleary is my favorite character in all of literature. Her strength, beauty, passion and love makes her a timeless heroine. Meggie and Father Ralph share a love story that spans many years and many heartbreaks. Even though they are not together, the book always has a undercurrent where you can feel their longing and endless love for each other, even though they are not together. In their hearts, they will be together forever.Meggie and Ralph are the Romeo and Juliet of the Australian outback- just as tortured and tragic. The miniseries was also fabulous--Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward make me speechless every time I see it. It is spectacular. Read The Thorn Birds and watch the series, if you are lucky enough to have the chance. You will never be the same--it's not just a book or a movie, it's an experience. Thank you Colleen McCullough, for such a wonderful story.
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on May 21, 1999
"The Thorn Birds" by Colleen McCullough is my favorite novel. It is in a category by itself and deserves more than five stars. I saw ten minutes of the miniseries on television and knew I had to read the book. I was twelve, and the story of Meggie and Ralph moved me to hysterical tears. I am now 18, and I have read the book so many times I have lost count. Set in the Australian Outback in the years surrounding WWII, it is the story of a girl growing up, learning that "The best is only bought at the cost of great pain...Or so says the legend." The courage and strength of Meggie despite the tremendous hardships of her life inspires me. I must admit I fell in love with Ralph de Bricassart; first with his name, then with the man. (I can only hope to find such a person!) All of the other characters--Fee, Paddy, Frank, Dane, Justine, Rain--are developed clearly throughout the story. McCullough is a genius for combining three generations of the Cleary family into one novel! I still cry when I read the story, for the love, and for the pain. The introductory story of the thornbird is a lesson for life: all sadness will pass, and one day something beautiful will come from that pain. A highly emotional book, "The Thorn Birds" is the best work of this century. It is worth reading to anyone who enjoys drama and romance, as well as suspense, action, and sadness! The movie based on the novel starring Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward is an excellent interpretation.
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on June 4, 2007
If I could give this book 10 stars I would. From the first page I was drawn into the Cleary family's world...into their colorful lives and the journey through their truimph and pain that spans a lifetime. This is a superb novel that centers around Meggie Cleary, a girl only but 7 years old at the start of the saga. Born into a poor Irish family of sheep shearers in the beautiful land of New Zealand, Meggie learns quickly that she must look after herself. From the time Meggie was a small child she was wise beyond her years. Having to hold her own against a family of all boys, save her mother Fee, who is but a shell of her former self. Fee being too busy with chores and duties, had no time to give love or affection to any of her children, except Frank...because he was different, he didn't resemble the Cleary's, he didn't behave as a Cleary. Meggie's oldest brother Frank was the only one who showed little Meggie any affection and she clung to him as if he were the only person who ever really loved her.

Fast forward 3 years....The Cleary's recieved a letter from their wicked, wealthy Aunt Mary Carson asking them to come to her home in Austrailia and learn how to tend her sheep and work her vast farm. Mary knew she was growing old and wanted the land and Drogedha, her home, to remain in the family once she died. So they left, with the promise of prosperity and a new future. Arriving after a trying journey by land and sea, they were met at the train station by priest Father Ralph De Bricassart, Mary's trusted confidant and friend.

From the moment Father Ralph and Meggie met they were both in awe of eachother. She being only 10, he being a man of 28. They shared a spiritual bond that neither could ignore from the beginning. He thought she was the most beautiful little girl he'd ever seen. She thought he closely resembled God because of his magnificant beauty and charm. He took Meggie under his protective wing and showed her an affection she had never known. She looked to him as a father, he to her as a daughter, but it was much more...

This is a tale of forbidden love, a love that cannot be consumated or entertained, but also can't be smothered and ignored. It is a love of two souls who are so entertwined it squeezes the heart with longing and desperation. Beyond their control, they fight their feelings and sometimes succomb to them over the period of their lives. Throughout this sweeping saga through generations of Cleary's, life lessons are learned the hard way and passed down to the next generations to learn all over again.

This book takes you on a long, winding road throughout time and the difficulties of the heart. It isn't just a romance, it is much more and any fan of great literature would appriciate this book. I recommend it highly.
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on January 5, 2000
The Thorn Birds is a wonderful family saga, which is just what I think the author intended it to be. The TV miniseries and the wonderful performances given by Richard Chamberlain, Rachel Ward and Bryan Brown have caused many to focus on one aspect of the book and discard many others, although just as important. I do, however, find two problems with the book. The final section is a major letdown, as the character of Justine is simply not strong enough or developed enough to evoke much empathy from readers. The second problem concerns the character of Father Ralph and his motivations. The author lets us know that Ralph is power hungry regarding his status in the Catholic Church, but she never lets us know why. As a result, we can't identify with his conflicts nor understand his choice of the Church over Meggie. Ralph comes across as far more power-mad than religious and I, for one, wanted to know why. I wanted to know more about him and his background, more about what made him who he is. Not letting us know Ralph was McCullough's big mistake and the book suffers greatly for it.
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on May 13, 2001
Someone once described W.S. Maugham as one of the greatest storytellers of our time for he writes with a vigorous flair, extraordinary clarity and precision and tightly disciplined with superb wit and urbanity and his sense of literary form is indeed something to conjure with. After reading Colleen McCullough's The Thorn Birds, I have come to the same conclusion, that is, the description on W.S. Maugham's penmanship can also be applied to McCullough's writing aptitude. Her style of writing is tinged with a touch of lucidity and simplicity, free from affectations and at her best, she has a delicate, condescending grace and charm. McCullough's dialogue is irrefragably excellent for the revelation of character and her command of the idioms of the ordinary speech permits her to effectuate a fine naturalness.
From the day of its publication in 1976, this exhilarating epic of outback life has been celebrated as the quintessential modern novel, a work that vividly brings to life all the details of life Down Under.
The Thorn Birds deals with the tragedy of ordinary lives, unfolded with an intense compassion and profound insight into the truth of the multifarious characters. McCullough fleshes out each and every character with minuteness and precision. The characters are common people, extremely down-to-earth and are convincingly and irrefutably alive. We have already taken notice of her bold and believable characterisation in Tim, her first novel which is an extremely poignant love story told with profound candour that acutely delves with acumen and insight into the affinity and emotional consequences of a forbidden love between an ingratiating, mentally-retarded young labourer and a middle-aged spinster.
Concealed behind her writing lies a sense of tragedy of life, in which transgression and iniquity or folly brings its own retributions, especially Justine O'Neil, who sets a course of life and love halfway round the world from her roots in Gillanbone, Australia, to become an actress in London, who lost her virginity at the tender age of eighteen, and who at the end of the novel ultimately repent.
McCullough can command a beauty of perspicuous expression that provokes the very emotional part of the erring human heart, a sweet, mellifluous, dulcet and piercing melody of infinite regret and yearning:
"In the morning they stared, awed and dismayed, at a landscape so alien they had not dreamed anything like it existed on the same planet as New Zealand. The rolling hills were there certainly, but absolutely nothing else reminiscent of home. It was all brown and grey, even the trees!
"The winter wheat was already turned a fawnish silver by the glaring sun, miles upon miles of rippling and bending in the wind, broken only by the strands of thin, spindling, blue-leafed trees and dusty clumps of tired grey bushes. Fee's stoical eyes surveyed the scene without changing expression but poor Meggie's were full of tears. It was horrible, fenceless and vast, without a trace of green."
From this short abstract itself, McCullough depicts the enigmatic and intractable Australian background with striking vividness.
Of all the characters delineated in this rousingly recounted saga of a grazier clan over a span of fifty-four years (between 1915 and 1969), none is better drawn than that of Meggie Cleary. It seems McCullough has put much of herself into the creation of the story, and in many ways, Colleen McCullough resembles Meggie Cleary. Even minor figures are drawn with sure, minimal brush strokes.
The Thorn Birds is impregnated with memorable scenes that are vividly etched in the reader's mind. The heroine and main protagonist at the heart of the story, Meggie Cleary, whose passionate and forbidden love for the handsome, magnificent Catholic priest, Ralph De Bricassart, who is two decades older than her, is veritably the stuff of legend; her broken marriage to Luke O'Neil; her giving birth to Justine O'Neil, the brilliant actress, and Dane O'Neil, who was not fathered by O'Neil but by De Bricassart himself without his knowledge: these are some of the episodes that may linger in the reader's memory long after he has put the novel down. Alas, the course of true love is littered with thorns.
Much of the fascination of The Thorn Birds can be traced to its blend of high romance and whim with undeniably realistic characters and background. This novel will undoubtedly be considered as McCullough's paragon, a masterpiece, because of its brilliant descriptive passages, the myriad poignant moments and the dramatic plot. She is indeed a writer of ingenuity and imaginative force. In complete control of her plot, her prose sways as gracefully as a waltz, glinting with irony, and meticulous in its detail and accent.
In this family saga, McCullough fuses intriguing period detail onto a generational saga that features a host of superbly wrought characters. Thoroughly enjoyable, this novel offers intelligent, witty entertainment. Its clean prose, empathetic characters, a richly observed tale of love and despair, unravel the tangled threads of doomed relationship. By capturing the dusty, dry essence of life in the Australian outback.
McCullough's real strength lies in her plotting and pacing, an eye for detail, and at creating a host of minor characters that people the landscape of her novel. Where her characters are caught up in a complex world of emotional connections and confusion, intertwined by the ties that bind them. Against a richly nuanced backdrop of people, place and history, it captures not only the breathless drama and agonising banality of life and all that it engenders, buts its abundant paradoxes as well.
Gripping and awashed with dramatic nuances, rich in detail and densely textured, The Thorn Birds sings with an undertone of elegiac melancholy. Read it and weep!
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on December 8, 2002
Colleen McCullough's The Thorn Birds is quite honestly the best book that I have ever read and probably will ever read. This novel made me feel every emotion possible. I was clapping, smiling, and jumping up and down whenever Ralph came to Meggie at Matlock Island. I was crying for the last portion of the book, starting with Dane's death and continuing through Justine, Meggie, and Ralph's reaction. I was so angry whenever I read of Luke's mistreatment towards Meggie. I was screaming at Justine to marry Rainer. I weeped for the Cleary family whenever This is the first novel that I came to know and love the characters, and I did not want to end the story because I did not want to lose touch with the characters and their lives. McCullough did an excellent job with her descriptions and development of plot. Though many of the other reviews say McCullough is extremely verbose, she writes no unnecessary words. Every word furthers the plot along of gives us a more vivid description of the characters or their feelings. By the end of the novel, I felt as if I had lived on Drogheda. I felt as though I was in love with Ralph de Bricassart.
I would recommend The Thorn Birds to anyone. Young and old will enjoy this read because of it's array of characters and emotions. Mothers will be able to relate to Fee and Meggie's feelings and anxieties. Young women will be able to be swept off of their feet by the romance of Meggie and Ralph, and later on, Justine and Rainer. My recommendation would extend more to a woman than to a man simply because of the romantic nature of the novel. I, as a young woman, could relate very closely to Meggie. I also feared Meggie's life as my own; not wanting to ever be in such a state of longing and pain or to be tricked into marrying a man, such as Luke O'Neill, to find myself alone, homesick, and confused of the future.
If you would like to read an extraordinary novel which will take you on a rollercoaster ride of emotions and befriend an amazing group of characters, I would suggest reading The Thorn Birds, an emotionally stimulating novel.
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on November 29, 2005
Not directly, never met him, but his positive comments in Danse Macabre compelled me to dig up this 1970's mega-hit when otherwise I'd probably never have done so. This novel is among my favorite works of modern fiction. Despite its being set in Australia, it reminds me a lot of the very best in US southern gothic. The tale here is much bigger than the "priest breaks vows with fetching Irish girl" that so many seem to focus on. Sure, that's an inescapable part of the plot, but what really made this story for me was its sweeping scope. The Thorn Birds begins in New Zealand in the early 20th century and concludes, after spanning the world, in Australia in modern times. Between the points of its beginning and its ending, a reader trails along on a ride that covers all that is mighty in the human experience. It is the story of one family's unlikely climb from poverty to social heights, and it is the tale of a gifted cleric whose unique communion with God is not severed by the extremes of his far-from-amoral conduct. There is much to love in The Thorn Birds, and the characters are magnificently created by the brilliant Colleen McCullough. There is passion in this book, and there is the undeniably gruesome. Tragedy is always lurking and appears when it is least expected: or wanted. Above all else there is a statement here, I think I'm correct in defining, regarding the nature of human life, and how in the end not one of us can ever achieve our fullest measure by dwelling strictly in happiness alone. This was the best sort of novel, one like Gone With The Wind, or Lonesome Dove, that took me completely by surprise with the wonders of its heights and its depths.
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on April 25, 2000
This book is so bittersweet - isn't that the way of life? Ms. McCullough has weaved an intricate, captivating tale. The story was extremely compelling, dramatic, and tragic. The cursed love affair of Meggie and Ralf digs at the thorns all readers surely have in their own sides. As a Protestant, I was enthrawlled by the spiritual issues grappled with through Catholic theology. I so admire Ms. McCullough taking on such an epic story that it pains me to give it only 3 stars, but I did for the following reasons: 1. The last third of the book falls flat as the climax (Ralf and Meggie) occured too soon and Justine couldn't hold it together on her own. 2. I am a huge fan of description and detail, but the detail in this book became tedious at times. 3. Because the book spanned 60 years, it was hard at times for me to feel connected to the characters when say 8 years had passed without any knowledge of what had been going on in their lives. But on the whole, a very admirable effort!
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on July 27, 2004
This is one of those books that you read and think "yes, I will read this one again one day." This story is epic in detail and spans three generations of the Cleary family.

This is really Meggie's story. She is one of the main characters that we follow as she finds love where it is least likely to grow but is unstoppable. She falls in love with Father Ralph and the feelings despite being wrong are returned. This is really a story that will have you laughing and crying. Set in Australia in 1915 Ms. McCullough writes vividly and eloquently and you will find this a hard to put down read. This is truly a classic in every sense of the word and one that I highly recommend.
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