by Colleen McCullough
Reading this doorstop of a novel about Australia’s birth may remind you of watching NBC’s coverage of the Sydney Olympics: The compelling moments—and there are plenty of them—are accompanied by too much stuff you don’t need to know.
McCullough (The Thorn Birds) tells the story from the point of view of one of the British convicts sent in the late 1700s to settle the land then called New South Wales. Her hero, a Bristol gunsmith named Richard Morgan, was one of Australia’s actual founding fathers, and his tale is intriguing. He loses his wife and two children in Britain (to accident and disease), gets jailed on a trumped-up extortion charge, then endures months of nightmare conditions aboard a slave ship bound down under. Strengthened by his trials, he emerges as a leader and finds joy in his new land—but not before McCullough has educated us on such diverse topics as 18th-century fire engine construction and rum distilling methods. Edited down, Morgan’s Run would be a far more pleasant trip. (Simon & Schuster, $28)
Bottom Line: Stirring saga with too many detours