Friday, September 26, 2008

The Thorn Birds

Friday, September 26, 2008

I've been meaning to write about The Thorn Birds for quite some time now. I read it a few weeks ago, just at the beginning of August, my last read before diving into the Twilight saga. It wasn't my first time to peruse the pages of the epic story of forbidden love set against the starkly beautiful background of an Australian sheep station. (By the way, I just learned that "station" is the term used in Australia, just like we use "ranch" here-not that this is relevant at ALL to my thoughts on the book :) )

I'd had a vague, distant memory of my mom and dad walking up to my grandmother's house to watch the miniseries based on The Thorn Birds, starring Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward, and I knew that my mom loved the book, but for some reason, every time I picked it up, I just couldn't stay involved long enough. I can't imagine why not, because it is both a wonderful and fascinating read. The characters are all rich, well-developed, and incredibly strong in their own ways, particularly the women. While the central story is based on the impossible love that develops between Ralph de Bricassart, an ambitious Irish Catholic priest and Meggie Cleary, daughter of the station foreman, it is supplemented tremendously by the tumultuous and loving relationships within the Cleary family and the inner turmoil in Father Ralph's conflicted soul.

At its core, the novel is about what it means to really love someone. Those are simple words, but the funny thing about love is that it's equally as easy to fall in love with someone, swept up in the throes of passion, as it is not to realize how much you love someone in your life that you've always taken for granted. Even though the real, true love between Ralph and Meggie is at the story's heart, it's impossible not to be hugely impacted by the other love stories, particularly between Meggie's parents, Fee and Paddy.

My favorite passage from the book is at its conclusion, which references the Celtic legend of the the title. The legend refers to a bird that only sings once in its life, once it has found a thorn tree. The bird immediately impales itself upon the longest thorn, and sings its only song, "one superlative song, existence the price." The lesson of the legend? "For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain." The final words of the book bring us back to the legend of the thorn bird.

The bird with the thorn in its breast, it follows an immutable law; it is driven by it knows not what to impale itself, and die singing. At the very instant the thorn enters there is no awareness in it of the dying to come; it simply sings and sings until there is not the life left to utter another note. But we, when we put the thorns in our breasts, we know. We understand. And still we do it. Still we do it.

I'd like to think that I live my life in this way, despite the pain of difficult things. I don't find these final words to be bleak, rather, they speak of what is real and true, and that anything worth having in this life is usually obtained at great cost.

"I can't wait."

Oh, the blissful happiness that ensues from watching an episode of The Office...I can't deny that I waited in eager anticipation for the season 5 premiere, which was last evening. It did not disappoint! Funny, heartwarming, romantic, and satisfying, all wrapped up in an hour-long episode! Of course, the best part was when the writers of the show (who, unfortunately, may torture us loyal viewers with angst-y long-distance issues later in the season) decided to give us the perfect surprise, right up front in the premiere, of Jim proposing to Pam, IN THE RAIN. Sigh....

I couldn't resist adding this video. It's so sweet!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

my One True Thing

Thursday, September 4, 2008

To write, or read, about the loss of a parent, especially a mother, must seem an impossible thing to many. It's something that all of us must inevitably go through, but there is a stark difference between a natural, composed ending to a life and an abbreviated, painful suffering conclusion. No one wants to watch a loved one in pain, but for the caretaking role to be reversed, and the thought of shouldering the burden for your's enough to take your breath away.

My own mother suggested Anna Quindlen's One True Thing to me this summer, as she had recently read it and been thoroughly affected by its painfully poignant subject matter. My mom has always been a big advocate of "when you're ready" to read this novel, or watch this film, or discuss this topic. She thinks in order to appreciate, understand, and value things, you have to be at the right point in your life. Reading this book was something else I had to be "ready" for, which doesn't necessarily imply maturity or new depths of life experience, just a degree of readiness, according to Mom.

As usual, the wisdom of this book recommendation was immediately evident to me, as I treasured the story immensely. It wasn't an easy read, but I won't easily forget it.

Some of my favorite moments:

Ellen, finally unable to restrain herself on the topic of her father's infidelities:
"Mama, I can't talk to you about this."
"Ellen," she said, struggling to turn toward me, her hands like pale claws on the railing of the bed, her legs scissoring away the white sheets, "listen to me because I will only say this once and I shouldn't say it at all. There is nothing you know about your father that I don't know, too."
The two of us stared silently into one another's eyes, and I think that after a moment she gave a little nod and then lay back.
"And understand better," she added.
"All right," I said.
"You make concessions when you're married a long time that you don't believe you'll ever make when you're beginning," she said. "You say to yourself when you're young, oh, I wouldn't tolerate this or that or the other thing, you say love is the most important thing in the world and there's only one kind of love and it makes you feel different than you feel the rest of the time, like you're all lit up. But time goes by and you've slept together a thousand nights and smelled like spit-up when babies are sick and seen your body droop and get soft. And some nights you say to yourself, it's not enough, I won't put up with it another minute. And then the next morning you wake up and the kitchen smells like coffee and the children have their hair all brushed and the birds are eating out of the feeder and you look at your husband and he's not the person you used to think he was but he's your life. The house and the children and so much of what you do is built around him and your life, too, your history. If you take him out it's like cutting his face out of all the pictures, there's a big hole and it's ugly. It would ruin everything. It's more than love, it's more important than love."

During Ellen's trial, when she responds to a question about whether she loved her mother:
"The easy answer is yes. But it's too easy just to say that when you're talking about your mother. It's so much more than love-it's, it's everything, isn't it?" as though somehow they would all nod. "When someone asks you where you come from, the answer is your mother." My hands were crossed on my chest now, and the woman in the blue suit turned her rings. "When your mother's gone, you've lost your past. It's so much more than love. Even when there's no love, it's so much more than anything else in your life. I did love my mother, but I didn't know how much until she was gone."

And finally, in the epilogue:
We made her simpler after she was dead. No, that's not true, either. We'd made her simpler all her life, simpler than her real self. We'd made her what we needed her to be. We'd made her ours, our one true thing.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Suite Francaise

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Suite Francaise, a recent read, was highly recommended to me by my beloved sister-in-law, whose taste is impeccable. It was a book she picked up last minute at the airport, not anticipating just how much she would enjoy it. She's even more serious about reading than I am, and her fear of going on a trip without enough reading material to last for the duration of her journey is quite intense! There really is nothing worse for an avid reader than to be without a decent book to read.

Needless to say, while I was at the airport just a few months later, waiting on an eight-hour delayed flight, steadily making my way through the second book I'd brought for my trip, I decided to take the same course of action, and I picked up Suite Francaise for myself.

The book became quite the bestseller when it was published in 2006-it's a two-part novel written by French author Irene Nemirovsky during the early years of World War II. Tragically, Nemirovsky was deported to Auschwitz, where she died. This renders the novel, which managed to survive a flight from war-torn Paris in a suitcase, even more poignant. Essentially, it's a story of flight, survival, and finding humanity in the influence of an occupying force. I found it to be a beautiful, soulful work, marked by lilting, pastoral tones and quiet tragedy borne in the spirits of strong men and women. As always, I want to include some of my favorite lines and passages.

in reference to the old Parisian couple, the Michauds:
"They had always had a burning desire to be happy. Perhaps because they loved each other so much, they had learned to live one day at a time, deliberately not thinking about tomorrow."

Lucille Angellier sitting in the midst of garden blossoms:
"The sun shone through them, revealing a pattern of interlacing, delicate blue veins, visible through the opaque petals; this added something alive to the flower's fragility, to its ethereal quality, something almost human, in the way that human can mean frailty and endurance both at the same time."

I love that line, "in the way that human can mean frailty and endurance at the same time." Reading it makes me catch my breath-it's like making the discovery that there actually is a way to put words to a feeling that you have about living.

Lucille's thoughts walking home in the rain and discovering children vandalizing an abandoned garden:
"Despite the freezing rain, the village children darted back and forth between the trees in their blue and pink smocks. Every so often she glimpsed a shiny, dirty cheek gleaming in the rain like a peach. The children picked lilacs and cherry blossom and chased each other across the lawns. Perched high on top of a cedar tree, one little boy in red trousers whistled like a blackbird.

They were managing to destroy what remained of a garden that had been so well-tended in the past, so loved-a garden where the Perrins no longer came together as a family at dusk to sit in cast-iron chairs (the men in black jackets, the women in long rustling dresses) and watch the melons and strawberries ripen."

Lucille and Bruno, her German, in the Angellier house:
"They felt a strange happiness, an urgent need to reveal their hearts to each other-the urgency of lovers, which is already a gift, the very first one, the gift of the soul before the body surrenders. 'Know me, look at me. This is who I am. This is how I have lived, this is what I have loved. And you? What about you, my darling?' "

Again, I was touched by the intensity of these words, the willingness to describe the most visceral of human feelings, falling in love.

There is much more to appreciate in Suite Francaise. As you can see, it's written beautifully, and when considering the real background of the story, it's even more compelling.