Winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, Eucalyptus is Murray Bail's best and most moving novel.
On a country property a man named Holland lives with his daughter Ellen. Over the years, as she grows into a beautiful young woman, he plants hundreds of different gum trees on his land.
When Ellen is nineteen her father announces his decision: she will marry the man who can name all his species of eucalypt, down to the last tree.
Suitors emerge from all corners, including the formidable, straight-backed Mr Cave, world expert on the varieties of eucalypt. And then, walking among her father's trees, Ellen chances on a strange young man who in the days that follow tells her dozens of stories set in cities, deserts, faraway countries…
Eucalyptus is both a modern fairy tale and an unpredictable love story played out against the searing light and broken shadows of country Australia.
'You will never forget what is at the heart of this book-one of the great and most surprising courtships in literature.' Michael Ondaatje
‘A book so fresh and strange that it is like no other…the narrative...rears its head like the serpent in the garden, quicksilver and sinister…The effect is a slow, dawning wonder as love and desire are kindled by the thing in life which resembles art but makes it trivial by comparison, which is to say the power of the sympathetic imagination…Eucalyptus is...a beautiful freestanding and audacious piece of experimental art. And if that sounds fearful, it is also a humane, smiling book full of the flat-voiced humour of country people who have a great twinkle of kindliness and kinship behind the tough exterior. It reminded me of very little else I had read except perhaps for Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera, though Eucalyptus is much less embellished and baroque.’ Peter Craven, Australian Book Review
‘The first thing to say about Eucalyptus is that it is a wonderful story brilliantly told. Like the great stories in the hands of the accomplished tellers, its essence is simple but, also like them, it is deceptive. The narrative voice is laconic, slippery, inclined to aphorism and homily, conscious of its own storytelling manoeuvres and of a literary tradition that it both acknowledges and rejects…In Eucalyptus he finds, through the multiplicity of trees and the stories they engender, a way to discover and triumphantly release the beauty and affection of a resistant land and a tight-lipped people. There is not a false note…a complex remembrance of individual eucalypts becomes part of the emotional fabric of a moving, exhilarating love story.’ Brian Matthews, Australian
‘[A] magical new novel…it’s a pleasure simply to be immersed in Bail’s caprice-prone mind…“Beware,” Ellen’s father warns her, “beware of any man who deliberately tells a story. Eucalyptus, with its pixilated wit and technical wizardry, is storytelling as “deliberate” as it comes. But the only warning readers need is that it leaves you hungering for more—far more—of its author’s strange and spry imaginings.’ New York Times Book Review
‘Bail organizes his novel with impressive poise. Digressions on the properties of different types of eucalyptus trees, on storytelling, on father-daughter relationships, the social significance of tears, and the implications of dying in a vertical rather than a horizontal position, alternate with the tales of immigrants and wanderers…By incorporating these in ways that tug new meanings out of the central narrative, Bail generates a fictional hybrid. Eucalyptus reads like one of Patrick White’s elaborate allegories, taken over by an affable Australian cousin of Italo Calvino.’ Times Literary Supplement
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Australian writer Murray Bail fuses his talents for fiction and non-fiction in this bold and mesmerising novel. Each chapter is named after a different species of eucalyptus, which makes sense given that this is a fanciful fable about a man named Holland who fills his rural property with these trees—and then decrees that the man who can name them all will win his beautiful daughter’s hand in marriage. Filled with startlingly poetic descriptions of Australia’s natural wonders, knowing humour about the country’s mythology, and wonderfully creative vignettes, Eucalyptus is an unforgettable story with a fairytale ending.
Bail is a sort of Australian magic realist, and if that sounds like a contradiction in terms, it is a fair summary of the rather disconcerting nature of the novel in question. The eucalyptus is Australia's emblematic tree, existing in hundreds of varieties, some extremely rare, and it is Bail's fancy that a man called Holland, living on a remote estate in New South Wales, planted on his land a collection of all such trees known to man. Having performed this odd, obsessive act, he then set, for his beautiful and only daughter Ellen, one of those traps essential to fairy tales: only a man who could correctly name each tree in his vast collection could have her hand in marriage. The problem was that Ellen didn't much care for the man who looked as if he was going to win; meanwhile another man came wandering through the trees and started spinning her wondrous tales. Bail's aim in this extremely odd book is elusive. Each of the many short chapters has a eucalypt heading, and the book is full of quaint touches of lore and fey observations about nature, landscape and art, not to mention a number of short, sometimes tantalizing tales. But the net effect, for all of some pretty writing and some gauzy atmospherics, is literary in the worst sense: coy, pretentious and with more than a touch of self-satisfaction.