The book starts with the legend of the thornbird – a bird who searches all his life for a thorn bush and once he finds it, impales himself on the thorn and while doing so sings the most beautiful song, even better that that of a lark or a nightingale and the song is so beautiful that even God smiles. For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain. This single sentence seems to sum up the common element binding the entire book.
The Thorn Birds, is the story of Paddy Cleary and his family and their journey from New Zealand where they worked as sheep shearers, to the huge sheep Drogheda farm in Australia, owned by Paddy’s autocratic sister.
The story spans 3 generations from Paddy Cleary and his wife Fiona, their sons and only daughter Meggie and the Catholic priest Ralph De Bricassart, to Meggie’s children. The story majorly dwells on Meggie and her relationships with her parents, brothers, Father Ralph and her children. Fiona, Meggie’s mother has suffered disappointment in love, has lost the one child she loves dearly over all others and realises only after Paddy’s death that she loves him dearly. Meggie’s story is on the same line who has a bitter realisation that the man she truly loves and wants, Father Ralph is beyond her reach and has chosen God over her.
Though I can identify with the characters of Meggie and Father Ralph, I find them faulty. The first time Father Ralph meets Meggie, she is 10 and he is 28. They form a close relationship from that time itself with Meggie looking up to him and loving him like a father-figure. But then progress from that relationship to being in love with each other! This is the weakness in the priest’s character that inspite of taking the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, he consistently breaks those vows and that too for a girl who is young enough to be his daughter. He then regrets and even after breaking all those vows considers to be truly and completely devoted to God. He later realises that he is a man first and a priest later but does not give into the relationship.
Meggie, who knows that Father Ralph is a priest, falls in love with him. It started as an innocent relationship and in time, developed into a serious forbidden love affair. Meggie, however, never understands a priest’s vocation and what it truly means. She thinks about herself and never of Ralph’s struggle with his love for her. Also she has anger towards God for Ralph choosing Him over her and it continues when her son decides to become a priest.
All in all it is a poignant love story, a powerful epic of struggle and sacrifice, a celebration of individuality and spirit.