The Thorn Birds – Colleen McCullough (1977)

Chatting with a friend about books (of course), she happened to mention the title of this 1977 best-selling multi-generational Australian novel that tracks the Cleary family as their lives play out at a fictional sheep station in the Outback and one that I had somehow missed during my teenaged years.

At this point (close to the end of the semester), I’m more or less brain-dead so I was looking for a non-complicated fairly straight-forward knife-through-butter read, and thus: The Thorn Birds was selected.

And, despite my rather low expectations for the quality of this read, it ended up being a very enjoyable multi-generational romp across this family’s history in Australia. (And if I’m honest, it was actually MUCH better than I had anticipated, so that’ll teach me to judge a book by its cover.)

Spanning the years 1915-1969 and crossing the world in its narrative arc, McCullough masterfully keeps control of the huge number of characters and events that make up this plot, and it’s written in such a way that despite this huge spread of variables, it wasn’t confusing at all. So – kudos should go to the author for that.

And even though the book is a complete and total beach read, it also happens to be very well written (apart from the odd printing typo here and there) and so that added to the overall experience as well. Oh, and it was nearly unputdownable at the same time. Really – the whole thing took me by surprise.

So briefly, the narrative follows the lives and times of Paddy Clearly, a new Irish immigrant who’s landed in Australia as a farm worker. It’s Paddy and his (many) descendants who form the core of the character line-up in the story, and although I was a bit concerned about keeping everybody straight at the beginning, there was very little confusion as to who was doing what when to whom, a fact that really impressed me as I turned the last page.

So, if you’re in the market for a good old-fashioned straight-forward and compelling beach read this summer, this title would be a good choice for you. It’s easily available (thus cheap and easy to get a copy), it’s well written, and if you’re like me, you’ll gradually become more and more invested in how the lives of several generations of the Cleary family turn out.

This was a fun read, completely outside my usual selection but good nevertheless. Perfect for the almost-summer-vacation brain that I have at the moment. 🙂

Jumping around…

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So – been jumping around from book to book for a day or two, and not really able to “settle” on just one title. Read quite a bit of Henry James’ “Turn of the Screw” which I found to be *intensely* boring, especially since it was supposed to be a ghost story. Wow. That boy needs an editor. 🙂

Finished up Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence” which I enjoyed, although not as much as “The House of Mirth.”  (Perhaps it was too much Wharton at one time.) Anyway, not bad though by any means. Briefly, main character Mr. Newland Archer is engaged to May Welland and the whole wedding thing is set up and confirmed when May’s cousin, Ellen (also called Countess Olenska) turns up, escaping a horrible marriage in Europe* to some rich guy with a bad reputation. Of course, Archer immediately falls for the naughty cousin and the plot develops from this. Who will Archer choose and how will it all work out? The disgraced and separated Countess or the trusting May? No prizes for guessing, but although the story itself was not that twisty, it still was a satisfying read. Lots of demonstrations of how gossip rules the world on New York high society (and may still for all I know). (Don’t really move in those circles much. Or at all.) 🙂

One thing I noted: Count Olenska was a much stronger character than others I have read , so an interesting evolution for gender roles for Wharton. Perhaps her other works show this as well? Not sure, but think I will take a break from her here, as I don’t want to do her a disservice by over-reading all her stuff at one time.

And then was browsing my way through Susan Branch’s nice-to-look-at book called “The Summer Book”. This is more a collection of recipes and thoughts, mostly about summer, mostly about summer at Martha’s Vineyard in MA. At first, I found it really irritating and irrelevant (and I was slightly envious about her living there), but once I got past the sea food recipes (yuck to read about and yuck to eat), I quite enjoyed looking at her watercolor illustrations and some of the quotations that she had picked to include the book. It’s one of those dreamy books about having a rich idle life in a beach house (already paid for) two steps from the sea, which would be lovely to have in theory, but might actually be really boring in real life. (However, I am very willing to try this experiment if anyone has a beach house to lend me in MV.)

Reality Check:

(House I would like to have minus the mortgage.)

(House I could afford right now.)

(View I would like regardless of housing set up.)

So – really just a rather random sort of a week. Am enjoying a reread of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” which I am finding as scarily prescient as ever.  RIP Mr. Bradbury. You loved books and libraries as much as I do. 🙂

And a great (somewhat random) quotation from Charles Dickens:

“There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.”

How perfectly true.

*Europe: I usually find it quite entertaining, as an English person, to hear Americans (in general) refer to all the countries in Europe as though they were one country. “I’ve been to Europe,” as people say. I am not belaboring a point nor being snooty, but after decades of having English history fed to me, I do feel I want to point out that Europe itself is not a country. It’s a collection of very different countries who happen to be next to each other, more or less.  Yes, there is also the European Union (EU), but again, this is not a country in and of itself. England is a country. France is a country. Poland is a country. Europe is not.  Obviously, not vitally important to the world in general, but just an ongoing niggle for me. It’s like saying “North America” includes Canada and Mexico and the US. However, there are obviously bigger things to worry about. 🙂