Tag Archives: Colleen McCullough

Self Flagellation

In the dark old days of Mao’s China, erring party disciples would, if they were exceptionally lucky, be made to write self-criticisms.  In these documents, the straying member of the flock would abase themselves, detail their crimes against the collective and swear to be a better and truer comrade in the future.  For all I know, this sort of thing still goes on.

In the short life of this blog, I find I have urinated copiously from the lofty internet heights on Robert Frost, Inga Clendinnen, Nick Hornby, Francis Collins, Emma Beare, Don DeLillo, Ron Rash, Madeleine St John, Andrew Porter, Bret Easton Ellis, Margaret Atwood, Norman McGreevy, Michael Leunig, Colleen McCullough, J D Salinger (the day after he died), Bryce Courtenay and Tim Winton.  Well over twenty per cent of my posts, in other words, have been more or less slavering attacks.

The tables must turn, however.  In the interests of fairness, I’m going to have a go at me.  Ladies and gentlemen, the scorpion is about to sting himself.  Let the Mao-style self-criticism begin.  I direct this not to Mao, but to George Orwell, whose Politics and the English Language is and shall always be my final guide to writing.  The idea of taking up a totalitarian epistolary notion and directing it at Orwell is grievously inappropriate, but I can’t resist. Continue reading


Have You Heard The One About The Cardinal And The Irishman’s Daughter?

When I wrote a post about the elevation of Colleen McCullough to ‘Australian Legend’ status by the discerning literary critics at Australia Post, I hadn’t read a word she’d written.  Nor, at the time, did I intend to.  But then, in a moment of weakness, I thought: well, how bad can it be, really?

As it turns out, it can be dreadful.

When reading The Thorn Birds I reflected that it would be possible to be understanding about any one of McCullough’s failings if it was the only failing.  I could forgive her sloppy and decidedly purple prose if that was all that was wrong with Thorn Birds; likewise her sentimentality; her lack of historical or scientific nous would be as nothing had either been the sole issue; her weak characterisations and even her occasional descents into trite racism might also be overlooked if she had saved them up for a couple more books.

But when all of these weaknesses are to be found in the same work they’re very, very hard to forgive, and it’s frankly impossible to call The Thorn Birds anything other than a giant, overstuffed and overcooked turkey. Continue reading