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The Thorn Birds
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The Thorn Birds

4.5 217
by Colleen McCullough

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Colleen McCullough's sweeping saga of dreams, struggles, dark passions, and forbidden love in the Australian Outback has enthralled readers the world over. This is the chronicle of three generations of Clearys, ranchers carving lives from a beautiful, hard land while contending with the bitterness, frailty, and secrets that penetrate their family. Most of all, it is


Colleen McCullough's sweeping saga of dreams, struggles, dark passions, and forbidden love in the Australian Outback has enthralled readers the world over. This is the chronicle of three generations of Clearys, ranchers carving lives from a beautiful, hard land while contending with the bitterness, frailty, and secrets that penetrate their family. Most of all, it is the story of only daughter Meggie and her lifelong relationship with the haunted priest Father Ralph de Bricassart-an intense joining of two hearts and souls that dangerously oversteps sacred boundaries of ethics and dogma.

A poignant love story, a powerful epic of struggle and sacrifice, a celebration of individuality and spirit, Colleen McCullough's acclaimed masterwork remains a monumental literary achievement-a landmark novel to be cherished and read again and again.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Family secrets, forbidden love, and the struggles of working in a hard new land intertwine in Colleen McCullough's bestselling romantic family saga, now in a 25th anniversary edition. This is the story of the Cleary family, who moved to Australia in the early 1900s to work Drogheda, a vast sheep station. Employing on a large canvas that encompasses two world wars and the Great Depression, McCullough lets the main characters take turns telling the story from 1915 to 1969. But the heart of the book is the forbidden love between Meggie -- Fee and Paddy Cleary's only daughter -- and Ralph de Bricassart, the handsome parish priest. It is a love with tremendous consequences for the future. When published, this novel received rave reviews; it holds up just as well for new and returning readers. Ginger Curwen
Boston Globe
A perfect Read...The kind of book the world blockbuster was made.
Chicago Tribune
A heart-rending epic...truly marvelous.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

On December 8th, 1915, Meggie Cleary had her fourth birthday. After the breakfast dishes were put away her mother silently thrust a brown paper parcel into her arms and ordered her outside. So Meggie squatted down behind the gorse bush next to the front gate and tugged impatiently. Her fingers were clumsy, the wrapping heavy; it smelled faintly of the Wahine general store, which told her that whatever lay inside the parcel had miraculously been bought, not homemade or donated.

Something fine and mistily gold began to poke through a corner; she attacked the paper faster, peeling it away in long, ragged strips."Agnes! Oh, Agnes!" she said lovingly, blinking at the doll lying there in a tattered nest.

A miracle indeed. Only once in her life had Meggie been into Wahine; all the way back in May, because she had been a very good girl. So perched in the buggy beside her mother, on her best behavior, she had been too excited to see or remember much. Except for Agnes, the beautiful 'doll sitting on the store counter, dressed in a crinoline of pink satin with cream lace frills all over it. Right then and there in her mind she had christened it Agnes, the only name she knew elegant enough for such a peerless creature.

Yet over the ensuing months her yearning after Agnes contained nothing of hope; Meggie didn't own a doll and had no idea little girls and dolls belonged together. She played happily with the whistles and slingshots and battered soldiers her brothers discarded, got her hands dirty and her boots muddy to play with. Stroking the bright pink folds of the dress, grander than any she had ever seen on a human woman, she picked Agnes uptenderly. The doll had jointed arms and legs which could be moved anywhere; even her neck and tiny, shapely waist were jointed. Her golden hair was exquisitely dressed in a high pompadour studded with pearls, her pale bosom peeped out of a foaming fichu. of cream lace fastened with a pearl pin. The finely painted bone china face was beautiful, left unglazed to give the delicately tinted skin a natural matte texture. Astonishingly lifelike blue eyes shone between lashes of real hair, their irises streaked and circled with a darker blue; fascinated, Meggie discovered that when Agnes lay back far enough, her eyes closed. High on one faintly Bushed cheek she had a black beauty mark, and her dusky mouth was parted slightly to show tiny white teeth. Meggie put the doll gently on her lap, crossed her feet under her comfortably, and sat just looking.

She was still sitting behind the gorse bush when Jack and Hughie came rustling through the grass where it was too close to the fence to feel a scythe. Her hair was the typical Cleary beacon, all the Cleary children save Frank being martyred by a thatch some shade of red; Jack nudged his brother and pointed gleefully. They separated, grinning at each other, and pretended they were troopers after a Maori renegade. Meggie would not have heard them anyway, so engrossed was she in Agnes, humming softly to herself.

"What's that you've got, Meggie?" Jack shouted, pouncing. "Show us!"

"Yes, show us!" Hughie giggled, outflanking her.

She clasped the doll against her chest and shook her head. "No, she's mine! I got her for my birthday!"

"Show us, go on! We just want to have a look."

Pride and joy won out. She held the doll so her brothers could see. "Look, isn't she beautiful? Her name is Agnes."

"Agnes? Agnes?" Jack gagged realistically. "What a soppy name! Why don't you call her Margaret or Betty?"

"Because she's Agnes!"

Hughie noticed the joint in the doll's wrist, and whistled. "Hey, Jack, look! It can move its hand!"

"Where? Let's see."

"No!" Meggie hugged the doll close again, tears forming. "No, you'll break herl Oh, Jack, don't take her away-you'll break her!"

"Pooh!" His dirty brown hands locked about her wrists, closing tightly. "Want a Chinese bum? And don't be such a crybaby, or I'll tell Bob." He squeezed her skin in opposite directions until it stretched whitely, as Hughie got hold of the doll's skirts and pulled. "Gimme, or I'll do it really hard!"

"Nol Don't, Jack, please don'tl You'll break her, I know you will! Oh, please leave her alone! Don't take her, please!" In spite of the cruel grip on her wrists she clung to the doll, sobbing and kicking.

"Got it" Hughie whooped, as the doll slid under Meggie's crossed forearms.

Jack and Hughie found her just as fascinating as Meggie had; off came the dress, the petticoats and long, frilly drawers. Agnes lay naked while the boys pushed and pulled at her, forcing one foot round the back of her head, making her look down her spine, every possible contortion they could think of. They took no notice of Meggie as she stood crying; it did not occur to her to seek help, for in the Cleary family those who could not fight their own battles got scant aid or sympathy, and that went for girls, too.

She clasped the doll against her chest and shook her head. "No, she's mine! I got her for my birthday!"

"Show us, go on! We just want to have a look."

Pride and joy won out. She held the doll so her brothers could see. "Look, isn't she beautiful? Her name is Agnes."

"Agnes? Agnes?" Jack gagged realistically. "What a soppy name! Why don't you call her Margaret or Betty?"

"Because she's Agnes!"

Hughie noticed the joint in the doll's wrist, and whistled. "Hey, Jack, look! It can move its hand!"

"Where? Let's see."

Meet the Author

Colleen McCullough is the author of The Thorn Birds, Tim, An Indecent Obsession, A Creed for the Third Millennium, The Ladies of Missalonghi, The First Man in Rome, The Grass Crown, Fortune's Favorites, Caesar's Women, Caesar, and other novels. She lives with her husband on Norfolk Island in the South Pacific.

Brief Biography

Norfolk Island, 1,000 miles off the Australian coast
Date of Birth:
June 1, 1937
Place of Birth:
Wellington, New South Wales, Australia
Attended University of Sydney

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The Thorn Birds 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 217 reviews.
ambrosegirl60 More than 1 year ago
This is my all time favorite book and movie. I have watched the movie so many times that I lost track. Everyone should start with the book first because it goes in to more detail.
JessLucy More than 1 year ago
The Thorn Birds is just a really great novel! The characters and their lives draw you in and make you sad when the novel ends. I could tell from the first page that this would be an awesome read; I really enjoyed the author's writing. If you like saga-style novels that cover a large portion of the character's lives, I would also recommend: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet, The Far Pavillions and Trade Wind by M.M. Kaye, the Clan of the Cave Bear (and sequels) by Jean M. Auel. I also enjoyed Colleen McCullough's other books, such as The House on the Strand and On,Off.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel is a Pop Culture Classic and it easy to understand why. The characters are well-developed and become close to your heart, the plot is compelling and cumpulsively readable, and the historical facts about Australia are interesting. I loved it and would recommend it to all - the love story between Meggie and Ralph will always haunt me. I have to admit, once these characters grew older and the novel was taken over by the younger characters - I was ready for the novel to be done. Somehow, the author catches time in this novel and the sense of when generations fade and new ones take over - the bittersweetness of that. Please, read!
rachelsweet More than 1 year ago
This book has entered into my favorite books category! Colleen McCullough is a phenomenal author. I loved this book from beginning to end! It is written in an intelligent yet easy to read format. The story is tragic yet wonderful. Everything you could ask for in a novel is in this one.
Tempo More than 1 year ago
A captivating story/saga of unfulfilled deep love through three generations of women. The saga is balanced on the love story between Meggie Cleary and Father Ralph de Bricassart, Father Bricassart's Love for Meggie is strong but his vows to the church and his professed love of God is stronger. Meggie must cope with her deep devoted love for him and the hope that one day he might commit himself to her completely. Their story forms the main theme of this powerful but difficult and unreconciled love. This theme is advanced and varied in a wonderful story that spans 55 years. Ms. McCullough's writing style was perfect in evoking images for the heart and the mind. She paints this wonderful story through many of the events of the the 20th Century and describes a unique way of life in the Australian Outback. This is my first book by Ms. McCullough and I plan to check her others works as soon as I can. I strongly recommend the Thorn Birds for all, especially for those who enjoy historical romances.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read this book before and loved it so much. I got the ebook version to read again. I highly recommend this book.
MadDogsWoman More than 1 year ago
This is one of my all time favorite books. I was extremely happy to find that it was available as and eBook,
lar7273 More than 1 year ago
This book was so much better than the tv show.
Bookworm1951 More than 1 year ago
A true classic. I have read this book 3 times over the years and it still has that tear-your-heart-out affect. A saga that spans the generations. From page one, this book will pull you in and not let go. A story of love, devotion and internal struggles. Characters are well developed. A bittersweet story that will haunt you for years to come. Highly recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I absolutely love this book. It is one of those you can read over and over again. I have several times
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a classic, wonderful & painful story of love, gentle sex with no details, One of my all time favorites
-bee- More than 1 year ago
This is the best book I have ever read. Its a beautiful story of family, love, tragedy and finding one's self. It's addicting and entertaining. Every night I looked forward to curling up in my bed to read this...I may read it again someday...such a wonderful tale.
Jennlvs2read More than 1 year ago
I don't get all the rave reviews. Although easy to read and moved along nicely, this book was ok, the characters are not interesting. Too much description with the land and church. I didn't find it very romantic. Easily forgettable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is one of the best I've read to date. I first read it when I was 16 years old. The characters are so real, their emotions so close to my own, that they have almost become a part of me and the way I look at the world. Reading this book has become a family tradition. My great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mother and several aunts have read it. We've all watched the mini-series, which, in all honesty, is one of the best tv miniseres I've seen besides North and South and War and Rememberance. The men in my family even enjoyed watching the series. The people in this book are more than characters. They become a part of you. I was transported to a different place each time I've read this book. I'm even going to name my daughter Meggie some day. If you enjoy books with an epic storyline mixed with symbolism, irony, beauty, heartbreak, triumph and power, this book is for you. I've read it 5 times and I will never get tired of it. It is my favorite and no other book will compare to how it has affected me.
SaraBetty More than 1 year ago
Wonderful book, fantastic movie... Never cried so hard over a story as this one... This was by far the best book Ms. McCullough wrote... An epic story set in Australia about forbidden love between a young girl and a young priest destined for greatness in the church... A story every woman should read... Unfortunately Ms. McCullough just died in January 2015.. May she Rest in Peace content in her contribution to the world she left behind... This is a story comparable to Gone With The Wind... After switching to Nook three years ago this is one of only ten paper books that I have kept... Can't recommend this enough... If you haven't read it you have missed a great book...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thorne is my name in real life. :c
Pulitzer_Fan More than 1 year ago
Great story, with rich characters and character development. Each of the characters were complex and told a compelling and tender story. The writing style was very easy to read and every time I picked up to read just a little, I ended up reading for much longer than I expected because it was compelling to hear what happened to the characters.
mybabies2 More than 1 year ago
I LOVED this book from beginning to end!!!! A lot of love and heartbreak and real human nature. Teaches us not to take anything for granted. Wonderful!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It isn't the most beautifully written book, but it is a great book and so much better than the movie. I watched the movie several years ago not even knowing it was a book and enjoyed it for what it was though Richard Chamberlain really annoyed me. It is unfortunate that I saw the movie before reading the book as several of the characters, including the main character of Father Ralph are totally miscast but their image and their voices overshadow their written selves.
GeorgeElliot65 More than 1 year ago
There's nothing sexier than a cute priest. This book is so awesome. The love story between Maggie and Father de Bricasart is pedophillic almost but you can't help but be touched.
beckyNJ More than 1 year ago
Great story. Sometimes feels to long, but picks up again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Would you like to read a bookabout the pain, triumph, family roots, forbidden love and heartbreakin life? The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough is a fantastic book containing all this and more. Meet Meggie Cleary, a young girl with strawberry blonde hair and grey eyes- she is a real charmer. Follow Meggie through life as she grows into a young woman, adult, and old woman. Father Ralph de Bricassart first meets Meggie when she arrives in Australia with her family. he takes an instant liking to the lonely girl. he takes her to the fair and teaches her how to ride horses. People start to get suspicious about their relationship as she enters adulthood. Fiona Cleary is mother to all the Cleary children. She is quiet, and hardly shows emotion. Read the book to find out the deep family secret involving Frank, Fioona, and Paddy. Luke O'niell meets meggie when she is a young woman. He has dreams of owning a large peice of land like the Drogheda. Most of this story takes place on the Drogheda, which is owned by Paddy's sister Mary. After Mary dies the land is supposed to be passed to the Cleary family. Although there are many characters in this book, most of the book focuses on Meggie, and her life. To keep it interesting, the author will occaisionslly skip from Meggies life, to her brothers fighting Nazi's in North Africa or to Father Ralph in Rome. In tho bool, Colleen McCullough uses plenty of Dialogue, and narration as well. She uses so much detial it is like watching a movie. However, this bool never really has a climax, it is more a series of events taking place in a lifetime.The dialect in this book is very interesting. the Cleary family is Irish , but htey live in Australia, so the have an Irish/Australian accent and dialect. If you like to read about other people and their lives, then The Thorn Birds is certianly the book for you. This book will keep you hooked through all 642 pages of it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had seen the movie when I was younger and always promised myself someday I would read the book. And now I have accomplished that task, and I must say I'll never regret it. The book was fantastic, and not an inch of any movie could portray the love that occurs through Ralph and Meggie. If we all could find the sensuality and comfort of that love. I hope that when I look at the children my husband and I may have in the future, I can see what Meggie saw, the one piece of my husband that will forever live on, with our love as its stronghold.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book. It drags on a little in certian parts, like when the scenery and the war are described, but the plot is very enthralling. Ralph and Meggie's romance is so complicated, so committed, so passionate. I also love the subplot, that we realize the pain our choices will cause us, but go through with them anyway. I strongly reccommend this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm an English Major and I have read many books in my day and few have touched me as deeply as The Thorn Birds. This book is engrossing with its well-developed characters and heart-wrenching story lines. I found that opening this book was like stepping into a whole new world - more so than any book I've read to date! With this novel I could visit the far corners of the Australian outback and feel the love and yearning that Meggie and Ralph experienced. This book is romantic and wonderful and it will make you laugh, cry and remember every moment of its incredible story.