Saturday, 31 January 2015

So Colleen McCullough

has died at the age of 77. She was best known for a novel I could not be bothered reading.
The Thorn Birds sold millions of copies. It might even sell another million now. I wonder how many people started it and never finished it?
There are people who insist it is "marvellous".  Germaine Greer famously described it as the "best bad book" she had read.
Perhaps the writing is good but, for me, the book needed a good edit. I know that view will not make me popular in some quarters. It was a view shared by the late Judith Wright and others. Not wanting to be seen as jealous their criticism was perhaps more muted than it should have been.
Her obituary in the national newspaper "The Australian" was slammed by many. I don't know who wrote it - rumour has it that it was a male, now deceased. Certainly there were remarks in there that were seen as being sexist, chauvinist and more. (I do wonder what would happen if a female journalist wrote a similar obituary of someone like Peter Carey, Tim Winton or journalist Bob Ellis?)
I met Colleen on several occasions. She was a larger than life sort of person. You knew she was there. You couldn't miss her. Her laugh told you she was in the room or in the tent. She talked a lot - no, not all writers do but she did. She had a very high opinion of herself - and was not afraid of letting others know it. She was also highly dismissive of Jane Austen and a number of other, highly regarded writers. It didn't always make her popular. I don't think it bothered her. She claimed she was writing, "for the people out there in the street" rather than writing a literary novel - but I suspect she liked the idea of being considered an important novelist.
She also suffered from depression, a glandular disorder that caused her to gain weight and, in her last years, failing eyesight.
To the best of my knowledge she only won one writing prize, something called The Scanno Prize. I know nothing about it apart from the fact that it is Italian and must have been awarded her for one of the novels in the Masters of Rome series.
Was she a great writer? No, I don't think she was. Was she a good writer? Some would say so. Perhaps she is but I doubt she is of the stature of someone like Elizabeth Jolley or Helen Garner or that the Thorn Birds is of the same quality as Mary Durack's "Kings in Grass Castles".
What she undoubtedly did do though was write something that many people believed they wanted to read and did read. That's good.
And I admire her for continuing to write through depression, ill-health and failing eyesight. Those things would have made many a lesser person quit.


Judy Edmonds said...

I read one of hr books once, some dystopian thing. The story was interesting but the writing too terrible for me to read anything more. But she brought pleasure to many people. I am disgusted by that obituary. I didn'y agree with most of views on other writers. But she was clearly an intelligent and industrious woman.

Anonymous said...

Well that was a damn sight better obit for her than the one in the Oz. Bob C-S