J is for Justine O Neill

Sometimes a character isn’t a protagonist, doesn’t even make an appearance till half the book is through yet comes like a breath of fresh air and charms her way right into your heart. Justine O Neill from the Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough is just that.


The book is a captivating saga spanning three generations of the Cleary-O Neill family. It  reminds me a little of Gone with the Wind. Both have similar sprawling farm settings, strong women characters and both tell tales of ill-fated unfulfilled love.

Set in an Australian homestead, Drogheda, Thornbirds is the story of Meggie (Justine’s mother). Meggie is in love with  priest Ralph de Bricassart. He is attracted to her too but chooses to ignore it and moves to Rome to take up a higher responsibility in the Catholic Church. Meggie goes on to marry a farm stud Luke O Neill only because he looks a little like Ralph. Luke turns out to be a flint-hearted workaholic and a miser who has married her only for her money. In a desperate bid to get him to settle down Meggie tricks him and conceives a child. She gives birth to Justine – a cranky feisty red-headed girl.

Within a few minutes of her birth, with the astuteness of a mother, Meggie remarks :
“I don’t think Justine will ever be mine, or Luke’s, or anyone’s. I think she’s always going to belong to herself.”

Luke never learns to love Justine or Meggie. What I found sadder still was that despite all the planning and scheming that Meggie did to get Justine, she  too becomes curiously detached from her. One would expect Justine to turn out a rather sad lost little girl. Not so at all. Justine has no patience for self-pity. She turns out spunky and smart and independent.

When she takes a decision she’s unstoppable. She decides she wants to be an actress and when Meggie delicately points out that perhaps she isn’t good-looking enough to be one – she says:
“Not a film star; an actress! I don’t want to wiggle my hips and stick out my breasts and pout my wet lips! I want to act.”

She’s definitely not looking for anyone’s approval.

Yet she’s neither self centered nor emotionless. She loves her younger brother Dane with a passion that borders on vehemence. She also reserves a special soft spot for her grandmother Fee and loves Meggie too in her own way.

Fee points out that her reluctance to share her emotions stems from a wariness of being laughed at. That made her very real for me. Aren’t a lot of us like that?

Dane is the one person she loves most and they share a close warm relationship. Yet how different they are! He becomes a priest and she an actress. He is celibate while she doesn’t hesitate to experiment. He is her conscience and she never feels the need to hide anything from him.

Finally, when she thinks Meggie needs her she is ready to give up her life in the city, her work which she’s passionate about and the man she loves to come and stay with her mother. A loveable monster Meggie calls her – that’s what she is.

Do pick up this book if you haven’t read it. In fact try others by Colleen McCullough too. At least one more of her books will show up here.


Linking up to ABC Wednesday with thanks to Mrs Nesbitt who thought up this wonderful meme.

abc 17 (1)

22 Replies to “J is for Justine O Neill”

    1. It is and if you liked what you read I have to tell you I left out some very interesting bits so I don’t spoil the fun for those who haven’t read it yet. Totally worth a read.


  1. It has been several years now sine i’ve seen it on tv… it made quit an impression, as the book had done to. Good choice for this week!

    Have a nice ABC-week and day
    ♫ Mel☺dy ♫ (abc-w-team)


  2. I loved the book and also attended the TV series, which was captivating as well. Thanks for reminding us of this excellent story. I go to Australia almost every year.
    Have a great week,
    Wil, ABCW Team.


    1. I wish I could visit Australia too – the one that McCullough wrote about. The image of Drogheda that remains in my mind is that of a peaceful place despite all the tragedies that happened there.


  3. Read this book twice, decades ago, Tulika! I am sure I have it somewhere among my books. I have the urge to read it again. I loved it at the time. I am sure I’ll have a different perspective when I read it now.

    Very nice review!

    Have you read “Lace” by Shirley Conran?


    1. I haven’t read Lace, Vidya. Will look it up. Glad you share my enthusiasm for Thornbirds. Reading a book after a long time does make you see it differently. It’s fun though.


  4. One of my all-time favourite books that I’ve read more than once and became a fan of the TV miniseries, too.

    abcw team


  5. Ohhhhh, how amazing… I had that book, and read it again and again! Only leaflets left…:-) Also saw the tv series… Very moved by the story of the thornbirds themselves, and how that related to the people in the book. Thanks for reminding me of a book that made a big impression on me. Lovely, sweet Tulika:-)


  6. I saw the mini series first, then read the book, both equally as good
    as each other.
    I have the book still in one of my book cases, must look for it,
    a timeless piece!
    Best wishes,
    ABCW team.


    1. It isn’t too often that a film/TV adaptation is as good as the book. This seems to be an exception.


  7. I liked the book, like Justine as a character (she’s a little bit of a b**** but it’s in a good way).
    But I thought Meggie was just about as stupid a character as I’ve ever read, didn’t like Father Ralph either (flaming hypocrite). The TV miniseries was just putrid.


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