■ REVIEW: Bittersweet
Epic sequel not so epic

It’s been 36 years since Colleen McCullough’s epic The Thorn Birds was first published, 30 years since it was made into that massive miniseries starring such luminaries as Richard Chamberlain, Barbara Stanwyck and Christopher Plummer.

I remember both the book and the miniseries as being dramatic and just a little bit awesome. Given that, I was looking forward to getting my teeth into the Aussie author’s latest offering, which promised to be one of those big, sweeping reads in the tradition of The Thorn Birds.

But something went wrong. Maybe my tastes have changed drastically over the past three-and-a-bit decades, maybe my memory was playing tricks on me, or maybe this one just wasn’t as good.

Set in the years between World War 1 and 2, the story is about four sisters – two sets of twins – who train to be nurses and end up involved in hospital administration, politics, drama, discoveries and (of course) blokes.

While a good number of the books I read tend to be murder mysteries and thrillers, I am quite happy to read anything that’s well-written (hence my distaste for Fifty Shades of Grey, bad writing is bad writing, even when it is disguised as domestic violence and stalking pretending to be soft-core porn).

Being set during the Depression, and with the four sisters all undertaking higher education at a time when women weren’t expected to have any sort of meaningful career (a job was simply something to fill in time until one married and began producing children), there was potential for this book to be a study of values and attitudes towards equal rights, but instead it’s mostly about their romantic lives and all the dramas that go hand-in-hand with blokes.

I really want to like this book but ended up feeling just a bit frustrated. Sure, it was an era when women’s needs and ambitions were generally secondary to those of the men in their lives, but I just expected a little more insight.

Bittersweet, by Colleen McCullough (HarperCollins, RRP $50)

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