Genre: Australian Fiction, Romance
Narrative Style: Third person from various points of view
Synopsis: Meggie Cleary is very young when she first meets Father Ralph de Bricassart but she loves him from the very first. She soon learns two things – that she can never have him and that he desires her too. So begins this sprawling novel about love and sacrifice that touches on life, death and love in its many forms.
To say I was annoyed by this book would be an understatement. About three-quarters of the way through I felt like I might be reading it for the rest of my life. It was hard not to give up but I hate abandoning a book especially when I have already spent a lot of time with it. Still, the major emotion at the end was relief.
In a way, I only have myself to blame. I know I don’t especially get on with romance and melodrama. And this had melodrama in spades. I had read another of McCullough’s novels (Tim) but that was a long time ago – I was about 18 – and I was probably thinking about Mel Gibson in the film of the book. I was curious because I enjoyed the TV series in the eighties although if there is one thing I should know, it is that good TV and film can be made from less than great literature.
To be fair, I was about 50% of the way through before the book really started to get on my nerves. The romance between Meggie and Ralph is quite compelling at first. He is torn apart by his longing, she is destroyed by his refusal to give up God. There is the makings of a great story there. Unfortunately, McCullough tries to tackle too much and the story stretches out of her control. If she had stuck to the simple story of an outback family, it would have been so much better. But sections such as that about twins, Patsy and Jims, fighting in Egypt are not only superfluous to the main plot but unconvincing. In fact, none of the men on Drogheda are particularly well drawn. It is as if McCullough couldn’t be bothered to do anything with them as none of them get married or do anything individually. They are lumped together as the Uncles and none of them are developed enough to have their own personality.
There is a lot of melodrama in this book. In some ways, Meggie was similar to Stephen in The Well of Loneliness. She is a martyr to her cause and while it is a different cause, the results were the same. It was difficult to believe that so many bad things could keep happening to her. It was draining and it wasn’t long before my empathy was exhausted.
The last section of the book focuses on Meggie’s two children, Justine and Dane. Again, this section did not particularly convince. Dane was too good to be true and it was no surprise that he would die such a martyr’s death. Justine wasn’t strong enough as a character to carry the weight of the story after that. Once you start to become annoyed with a book, it is hard to take any of it seriously so when Father Ralph died in Meggie’s arms, the only emotion I felt was that of disbelief.
It’s a shame that I ended up feeling that way. The beginning of this novel has some great descriptions of the outback and the toughness of the life that they have to lead. Perhaps I should have stopped reading about halfway through. I certainly wouldn’t feel so let down by the book if I had.