Tag Archives: Colleen McCullough

An unlikely love story

She – Mary Horton – a 43 year old straight-laced spinster with two houses but no space for love or friendship.

He – Tim Melville – a 25 year old young man with Greek God looks and the brain of a child.

Tim by Colleen McCullough has to be one of the most unlikely love-stories. In this debut novel McCullough crafts her characters with meticulous care and so much love that you cannot but be moved.

tim

Writing about a character such as Tim is a challenging task because you have so much to say you don’t know where to start. You desperately want your readers to feel about him just as you do and you struggle to find words to say it all and worry, wondering if you will ever do it justice.

I am going to try, though.

Mary spots Tim first at her neighbour’s house where he’s part of a construction crew and is entranced by his stunning looks. Later, she calls him over to help her with her garden and then at her beach house. Thus starts a relationship that has friendship, affection and love put together in an inextricable, heartwarming mix.

For a casual observer there is nothing right with the relationship. The two are no match in physical appearance, mental capabilities, financial or social status. They bond on a purely emotional level.

When I started out reading the book, to me Mary seemed the sole ‘giver’ in the relationship. What could a mentally challenged boy offer a self-made, confident, affluent, educated woman? The only thing missing in her life, perhaps to an outsider, would be the love of family and friends but not to Mary. She fills her life with work, an extensive personal library of good books and good music. Mary Horton is satisfied, even pleased, with the way she has built her life.

Then along comes Tim. His heart winning innocence makes you love him and want to take care of him. He worms his way into Mary’s heart picking away at her defenses, setting her at ease, urging her to loosen up and awakening her dead heart without even being aware of it. He brings colour to her home as to her life. Her feelings for him change from pity to protectiveness to love.

He becomes an integral part of her life as she becomes his.

A word about Tim – he has been brought up to successfully handle his day-to-day life. He can travel on the bus on his own and earn his living as a construction worker. He is aware that he isn’t the ‘full-quid’, as he puts it. He has a naturally sunny disposition and the only thing that upsets him is when he cannot understand a joke or a remark – the feeling of being shut out because of his impaired brain. With Mary he never feels that.

In the end I think this was as equal a relationship as it can get. When Mary’s boss who’s the closest thing she has for a friend, suggests she marry him her response is, “How can I possibly marry a mentally retarded boy young enough to be my son? It’s criminal… I’m a sour, ugly old maid, no fit partner for Tim.” She doesn’t mince her words or spare her feelings.

His reply puts their relationship in perspective:

“…. I defy anyone to explain what one person sees in another…. Whatever you think you are, Tim thinks you are something quite different and much more desirable. You said you didn’t know what on earth he saw in you, that whatever it was you couldn’t see it yourself. Be grateful for that!”

Those were my absolute favourite lines.

Nope, this isn’t a story of romantic love but it most definitely is a love-story. To find someone to love you more than you do yourself – if that’s not love, what is?

PS: The book was made into a film starring Mel Gibson and Piper Laurie. I remember watching bits of it long ago and didn’t quite like it because the Tim I’d made up in my mind was way more handsome and younger too.

PPS: Read the book also for a host of wonderfully etched supporting characters and beautiful descriptions of Australia.

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Linking up to ABC Wednesday. Do drop by and take a look at what others have come up with the letter T.

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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.

thornbirds

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.

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

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