February 2, 2015

A wildly insulting tribute to bestselling Australian novelist Colleen McCullough


Colleen McCullough

Colleen McCullough

Colleen McCullough, Australia’s best-selling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth. In one interview, she said: ‘I’ve never been into clothes or figure and the interesting thing is I never had any trouble attracting men.’”

What the fuck. This is a woman whose novel The Thorn Birds—one of 25 books she wrote in her lifetime—sold 30 million copies in paperback, 3 million in hardcover, and has been translated into no fewer than 20 languages throughout the world. Oh, and she wrote it during the decade she spent running a research laboratory at Yale, where she taught neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and neurological electronics.

And yet, as of this writing, this is The Australian’s introduction to her obituary; the salient facts of a life thus lived are that McCullough was not particularly attractive, but pleasant to be around. And “the interesting thing is” that despite everything, men still found her appealing. (Thank God!) It goes without saying that it is basically impossible to imagine such an opening for a man’s obituary—especially a man as accomplished as McCullough was.

The article “was received with distaste on Twitter,” where the hashtag #myozobituary now yields thousands of dispatches from users speculating on how their own lives might be remembered. Australia-based journalist Jane Caro tweeted: “Short & dumpy with an extra chin, she nevertheless wrote books novels & articles & was occasionally allowed 2 appear on telly. #myozobituary”

The obituary was apparently penned years ago (I didn’t even know this was a thing, but it of course make good, grim sense) by a writer who has since died himself. He was probably a prolific obituary-writer, the very best, but we don’t have anything to remember him by, since none of us knows what he looked like. Or whether or not he was married.


Taylor Sperry is an editor at Melville House.