Bittersweet by Colleen McCullough

A complimentary advanced reader copy of this book was provided by Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review. (Thank you!) My review was in no way influenced by this consideration.

I remember finding The Thorn Birds on my parents’ garage bookshelves when I was about eight years old, and thinking I was out of other reading material, so I might as well take it on. (I decided perhaps not, once I came across the word “flaccid,” in relation to a priest’s genitalia, and looked it up. I thought maybe I wasn’t quite ready for that level of reality, yet. Ha!)

Thus traumatized, I approached Bittersweet with trepidation, but I’ll admit the subject matter sounded pretty fabulous: the 1920s, Australia, four sisters making pioneering strides in nursing, and, you know, the clothes. And all those things were there…but there was so much else that wasn’t.

Starting with character development. I wanted so dearly to like this book, but I found it so difficult to actually like any of the characters. For a while, I thought maybe I would relate to Edda, but McCullough seemed to stop writing her with any personality mid-way through the book. Grace was fairly flat, then horrific, then nearly absolved, but still terribly one-dimensional. Kitty was intriguingly flawed, but her issues were never fleshed out in a way that made me able to connect, and then she became a stock character: bored and angry with her husband, unable to see past her own selfishness, escaping from reality without doing anything difficult. Tufts was the only one of the sisters that seemed to have any clear line of character throughout, and I did like her for it. Unfortunately, she was underutilized, as were Liam and Rawson, the only other likeable characters in the book.

As for the plot, it centered most on Kitty and Charlie, and a great deal more on Charlie’s political career than even the sisters’ fates or interests. I couldn’t figure out why this was the case. I was also unsure what the point of Jack’s character was, other than to provide an easy out for one of the sisters in the end.

While the setting and scenes were well-written, and I found myself hopefully returning to Bittersweet wanting more for the sisters and crossing my fingers for a good climax that would have them fighting for something worthwhile, it never really came about. I was disappointed. Perhaps it’s just as well I gave up on The Thorn Birds, after all!

2.5 stars. No language that I recall. Some non-descript premarital sex between Jack and one of the sisters.

2.5 Stars

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