I am always interested in novels in which women are the main characters. The two Australian saga books, The Thorn Birds and All the Rivers Run have successfully portrayed different characteristics of a woman: gentle, romantic, passionate, and yet strong and decisive at the same time.
1. The Thorn Birds – Colleen McCullough
“For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain… Or so says the legend.”
This classic book is a saga, which spans three generations of the Cleary family and focuses mostly on Meggie, the only daughter of this family. It is divided into 7 sections and covers all ups and downs of this family from 1915 to 1969. The story begins with their hard life in New Zealand when Meggie is 4 years old. Her favorite brother is Frank, who has a tendency to be rebellious and usually shows his unpleasantness towards his father.
“Frank, I can never be free, and I don’t want to be free. I wish I knew where your blindness comes from, but I don’t. It isn’t mine, nor is it your father’s. I know you’re not happy, but must you take it out on me, and on Daddy? Why do you insist upon making everything so hard? Why?”
Since Paddy, Meggie’s brother, is offered a job in Drogheda, Australia by his wealthy land-owning sister, the whole family moves and this is such a stepping stone for Meggie. She first meets the handsome priest, Ralph de Bricassart, who is the one and only love of her life. He is there in every stage of her girlhood: when her little brother passes away, when her beloved brother Frank runs away, when the family inherits the large fortune, and even her first menstruation. Seeing Meggie turn into a very young and beautiful woman at seventeen on her gorgeous “Ashes of Roses” dress, Frank feels his pain when he has to give up his love and decides to choose his career over personal desire.
Being hurt by Ralph’s leave, Meggie promptly gets married to Luke O’Neill, a gold digger who happens to look like Father Ralph. Her marriage with him is such suffering, both physically and mentally for her and she can never forget the image of Ralph. Even she overcomes the pain of giving birth to their first daughter, Justine, Luke shows no interest in bonding their relationship. All he cares are sex and her money. Father Ralph cannot help thinking about Meggie, and when he meets her again on her holiday, they together have the gift of their eternal love.
Though Meggie is such a fascinating character, I find Fee, her mother, is extremely impressive. Her life before marrying Paddy is really tough, even tougher than Meggie. This witty woman has a keen eye on everything. Yes, she is not a good mom at the beginning, she seems to be bewildered all the time and the only child she cares for is Frank. Fee and Meggie never have a mother-and-daughter talk before, even when Meggie begins puberty or gets married. But Fee knows everything, from her unchanged passion to Ralph to Dane’s real father. History repeats itself with these two women in the Clearys.
“Luke O’Neill never bred that boy; he’s Ralph de Bricassart’s son. I knew it the minute I took him out of you at his birth.”
“Marrying Luke was the smartest move you made, Meggie. As long as he knew you were pining for him Ralph didn’t want you, but the minute you became someone else’s he exhibited all the classical signs of the dog in the manager.”
The best part of the book is McCullough’s writing: the wildlife, the farm, the fire, heat, drowning, snow and so on – everything you can imagine in Australia. But the most impressive part is the plot twists, readers are amazed from chapter to chapter since every detail are closely related. Guessing what is going on in the next chapters is almost impossible with this novel since McCullough is such a master in storytelling.
2. All the Rivers Run – Nancy Cato
If The Thorn Birds brings you to a sheep station in an arid area, this novel is all about rivers, water and vessels. Murray and Darling are two rivers mentioned in this novel. As a matter of fact, Murray is the longest river in Australia which flows across Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, while Darling flows from New South Wales to its confluence with Murray. According to Delie, the main character, Murray seems to be muddy and melancholic whilst Darling is more romantic and peaceful.
Delie, a painter lives in Echuca, falls in love three times in her life. The first one is Adam, her attractive cousin. She loves him with the purest soul of an artist, of a teenage girl with an adolescent crisis, jealousy and sexual desire. The second one is Brenton, strong and masculine, a captain with intense sexual desire. The last one is Alastair, in my opinion, he is the most suitable one for her artistic soul.
I don’t know why she marries Brenton, because of admiration, infatuation or she just wants to settle down with the captain of her boat? She just bears with all the time he cheats her, he is violent to her and the children, he is irresponsible, he is drunk all the time after his accident? How can a great artist like her end up with that mediocre man? Living in the boat, being a housewife, having four children, losing two newly-born babies, suffering Brenton’s temperament – she just doesn’t deserve that! The twist which made me almost cry is when she’s got depression after giving birth her fifth child. As a husband, Brenton just doesn’t care about her feelings, he is just drunk and beat her and humiliate her! I think that life in their boat, her husband and her giving up painting make her depressed. Alastair is the one for her, she should have met him sooner.
Despite her hard life, she still gets attention from many men. I think her endowed beauty combined with an artistic soul that makes her attractive even when she has 4 children. Art helps you remain your joyfulness, that’s why a woman who loves art is always intriguing and stimulating.
I would rate 3.75/5 for this book. Compared to The Thorn Birds, the plot twists in this novel are not that fascinating. Delie’s life seems to have fewer ups and downs, twists and turns than Meghen’s. However, this book will heal your soul, it makes you feel peaceful, it is like a cookie for your afternoon tea time. Though this seems to be a cliche reading for girls, there are 2 lessons I can learn from it: (1) A woman’s desire, dream and ambition have to be appreciated the same way like a man’s and (2) Don’t underestimate the determination of a woman. An artistic woman can become surprisingly strong and unflinching for her beloved kids and family.