Books Read in 2015 – 38. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

Genre: Australian Fiction, Romance

Narrative Style: Third person from various points of view

Rating: 2/5Unknown

Published: 1977

Format: Kindle

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.



Books Read in 2015 – 20. Brighton Rock – Graham Greene


Genre: Classics, Crime

Narrative Style: Third person from various viewpoints

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1938Unknown-1

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Hale realises soon after he arrives in Brighton that his life is in danger. He is caught up in Brighton’s gang war. After he has killed Hale, Pinkie believes that he can escape earthly punishment but he didn’t expect the force for good that is Ida Arnold.

Reading challenges: TBR Pile Challenge

Time on Shelf: About 15 years. My husband read it almost straightaway when we bought it but it has taken me this long. 


When the opening line is ‘Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him’, you know that you are onto a winner. This book hooks you in immediately and does not let go. There is not a moment wasted as the plot is intense and taut.

The character of Pinkie was fascinating. He was both vulnerable and dangerous. His own background makes his path into violence seem almost inevitable. He is not much more than a child, trying desperately to mimic the methods of the men he sees around him. He is clever but untamed and has no moral code to speak of. He is the very model of a psychopath but Greene makes it possible for the reader to feel for him and the situation he has got himself into.

On the side of good is Ida Arnold, the woman who was with Hale just before he died. She barely knew him but is determined to discover the truth of his death. She is full of life and laughter, a strong character who will not give up. Thankfully, she is not a saint but an ordinary woman who decides that she must not let this one go. She is motherly and tries to look after Rose (who Pinkie marries to keep her from testifying against him) even when Rose does not want her help.

The character of Rose was the one weak link in the novel. I couldn’t see why she might fall for Pinkie so heavily that she would marry him immediately. She was dangerously naive and I wasn’t really convinced by her. I don’t think she was as well drawn a character as the others. It was hard to feel any sort of empathy with her about her bullheaded belief that Pinkie loved her.

This is very much a novel about earthly retribution versus that of the Catholic church. One of the only things that Pinkie believes in is the fiery depths of hell. He appears to believe that nothing on earth can touch him. I must admit that I do not know a lot about Catholicism or even religion as I have no beliefs and I think some of the finer points of this novel passed me by because of it.

Overall, though this was a fine thriller which kept me interested throughout and although Pinkie’s downfall seems inevitable, the exact nature of it was still a surprise and the ending of the novel is quite devastating. A very enjoyable read and certainly encouragement to read more of Greene’s work.


Books Read in 2014 – 63. Death Comes for the Archbishop – Willa Cather


Genre: Religious, American History

Narrative style: A series of happenings that involve the same characters but are not connected by an over-arching narrative. Third person.

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1927

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: An epic novel spanning the life of Father Jean Marie Latour as he becomes9780679728894_p0_v1_s260x420 Vicar Apostolic to New Mexico. The novel takes us from the beginning of his career through to his becoming Archbishop and eventual death. 

Reading Challenges: TBR Challenge

Time on Shelf: This is one of the oldest unreads on my shelf. I bought it while at university some twenty or so years ago. I had come across Cather’s name in books on feminist writing and so when I saw it second hand I picked it up. However, I then didn’t really fancy the subject matter, hence it languishing on the shelf for quite so long. 

There is no denying that this is beautifully written. Cather can certainly turn a phrase and for me to have kept on reading this, despite my lack of interest in matters of religion is testament to the strength of her prose. The countryside and the characters are all impeccably described and vivid to the reader. Latour and his assistant and friend, Father Joseph Vaillant, were interesting in their missionary zeal even while I could not share their enthusiasm. Both were based on real men and many of the events were based in reality which only makes it more remarkable.

The main reason I didn’t rate this higher was the structure of the novel. I’m not even sure that novel is the right word. There isn’t one storyline here, no overarching plot but a series of scenes, all as important as the other. This led to a lack of tension and I felt there was no reason for reading on. There were no hints of what was to come and little reference to what had been. It was perhaps like a series of short stories which just happened to involve the same group of people.

While I am not really interested in religion, I am interested in the period of history described and if nothing else, this book has reminded me of that and ensured I will read more about it in the future.

Books Read in 2014 – 48. Philomena: The True Story of a Mother and the Son she had to Give Away – Martin Sixsmith

Genre: Biography, GLBT88d6b45af6786ed7d9322639cd94e4d4

Narrative Style: Journalistic – Third person with occasional first person input from Sixsmith

Rating 3/5

Published: 2009

Format: Paperback



I’m always a little dubious when someone loans me a book and says I think you’ll really enjoy this. First of all, the book that they then loan me represents something of what they think of me. Always a bit worrying. Secondly, there is the added pressure of whether or not you will actually like it and what they will think if you don’t. My mother in law loaned me this after she had watched the film and then read the book. She did warn me that it was very different from the film but as I hadn’t seen it, it didn’t trouble me much.

However, this book is not only different from the film, it’s different from it’s own blurb. The quotations from reviews on the back of the book suggest it is about a mother’s search her child. It is not.

I enjoyed the opening which described the life of Philomena and the other girls at the convent and what happened to them and the babies born to them. I also enjoyed the descriptions of attempts to stop the scandalous export of babies to the USA. However, after this point Philomena disappears from the story until the very end. I would have liked to know more about how life was for her after she gave away her baby. She isn’t mentioned again until the last chapters where she is dealt with in a cursory fashion.

The rest of the account is focused on Michael, the son she gave away. This story is interesting enough and Michael comes across well. Not only does he struggle with being an orphan but he faces the difficulty of being gay at a time when being open and successful within politics wasn’t possible. The choices he makes often come back to his status as an orphan and his attempts to find his mother add interest.

It doesn’t quite work for me. I’m not even sure why. It may be that a lot of the dialogue seemed stilted, unreal – a bit too exact to quite ring true. And Sixsmith seems a little too fascinated by the darker side of Michael’s personality and sexuality. It is a story viewed from a distance and it seems that Sixsmith felt little emotional connection with Michael. Overall the tone is too journalistic and it was hard to feel personally for the characters.

It seems a bit of a shame – there is definitely a story to be told here. Just not this one, in this way.