Had my first failure at this month’s book club as I failed to read both the books in time. I would consider myself a reasonably quick reader, and usually manage to get through 80-100 books a year, but on this occasion the sheer scale of the chosen novel defeated me.
The cause of this failure was Colleen McCollough’s famous novel The Thorn Birds. This type of old-fashioned, doorstep saga is becoming rarer these days. I don’t think this is because of the usual theories about how people don’t have the attention span or concentration to get through this sort to stuff – look at Game of Thrones for example, wildly popular and truly ambitious in scope. (Just thinking about it, you could argue that the Thrones series is itself a saga, with it’s cast running into hundreds and a more extreme version of family strife contained within its pages). Anyway, I think the historical, quaint saga with long passages of landscape description and quiet, often religious characters just have less resonance with the modern population.
Having said that, I enjoyed this book a lot more than I expected. I love the feeling of getting totally immersed in a book, that it takes over your life in the time it takes to read. And sometimes it’s nice to read a novel that takes its time. I didn’t skip a single word, and quite liked the opportunity to remember how pleasurable the scene-setting type of prose can be. This is McCollough’s comfort zone no doubt, but their are plenty of dark moments in the novel, with a number of deaths of main characters, and she doesn’t flinch away from showing the hardships of living in rural Australia in the early 20th century. I did feel that the novel ran out of steam a little in the last 100 pages, but keeping up an even pace over the course of 700 pages plus is a challenge for any writer. I think overall the novel reminded me, as a writer, that its OK to be expansive sometimes, that the reader will stay with you as long as the prose retains balance and always remembers to push the story along.
Our second choice was the feminist classic The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer. I must confess that I find psychological texts quite difficult to process at times and I did struggle to get into this. This book was somewhat infamous on publication due to its course language and confronting material and I have to admit this is what I liked of the bits I read. You could argue that the book as a whole is a well-crafted rant but I don’t think it suffers for that. Its enjoyable to read something where the author’s passion for their subject shines through on every page. As I failed to complete the book due to time constraints it will no doubt fall into the ‘will-get-around-to-reading-someday-but-will-probably-grow-dust-on-the-bookshelf’ category. (Metaphorically speaking as I downloaded the book onto my Kindle!) I would hope that I do go back and finish it though and break that cycle.