Eucalyptus (Bail)

Murray Bail, 1998
Macmillan Picador
265 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780312427313

The gruff widower Holland has two possessions he cherishes above all others: his sprawling property of eucalyptus trees and his ravishingly beautiful daughter, Ellen.

When Ellen turns nineteen Holland makes an announcement: she may marry only the man who can correctly name the species of each of the hundreds of gum trees on his property. Ellen is uninterested in the many suitors who arrive from around the world, until one afternoon she chances on a strange, handsome young man resting under a Coolibah tree.

In the days that follow, he spins dozens of tales set in cities, deserts, and faraway countries. As the contest draws to a close, Ellen and the stranger's meetings become more erotic, the stories more urgent. Murray Bail's rich narrative is filled with unexpected wisdom about art, feminine beauty, landscape, and language. Eucalyptus is a shimmering love story that affirms the beguiling power of storytelling itself. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—september 22, 1941
Where—Adelaide, South Australia
Awards—Miles Franklin Award and Commonwealth Writer's
   Prize, both 1999; ASL Gold Medal, 1998; Victorial Premier's
   Award for Fiction and The Age Book of the Year, both 1980.
Currently—lives in Sydney, Australia

Murray Bail is an Australian writer of novels, short stories and non-fiction.

He has lived most of his life in Australia except for sojourns in India (1968-1970) and England and Europe (1970-1974). He currently lives in Sydney.

He was also trustee of the National Gallery of Australia from 1976 to 1981, and wrote a book on Australian artist, Ian Fairweather.

A portrait of Bail by the artist Fred Williams is hung in the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. The portrait was done while both Williams and Bail were Williams and Bail were Council members of the National Gallery of Australia.

He is most well known for his novel Eucalyptus which won the Miles Franklin Award in 1999. His other work includes the novels Homesickness, which was a joint winner of The Age Book of the Year in 1980, and Holden's Performance, another award-winner. Reviewers recently compared Bail's Notebooks 1970-2003 with Proust, Gide and Valery's

Clancy suggests that Bail is, with Peter Carey and Frank Moorhouse, one of the chief innovators in Australian short story writing, and that he was part of its revival in the 1970s. He notes that Bail is particularly interested in the relationship between language and reality and that this is evident in his early short stories. He says "the stories display the strange mixture of surrealist fantasy and broad satire of Australian mores that characterizes all of Bail's work." (From Wikiipedia.)

Book Reviews
Eucalyptus bristles with psychosexual tension as it addresses the human urges to manipulate, possess, and surrender—in other words, the whole imbroglio of Love with a capital L.... It's a pleasure simply to be immersed in Bail's caprice-prone mind; the only warning readers need is that [the book] leaves you hungering for more—far more—of its author's strange and spry imaginings....Incandescent . . .
Michael Upchurch - New York Times Book Review

A mesmerizing novel, Eucalyptus offers eccentric meditations on art, landscape, gender differences, history and much else....Curious power is precisely what this novel delivers.
Washington Post

A minor masterpiece... One of the best courtship stories ever written.
Seattle Times

In this bland modern-day fairy tale, 19-year-old Ellen is the beautiful motherless daughter of John Holland, who decides to find a suitable husband for his only child. Holland devises a test--he who correctly identifies the genus and species of every one of the nearly 500 eucalyptus trees planted by Holland himself on his vast Australian spread will win Ellen's hand. Her legendary beauty attracts countless eager suitors, but all fail. Then older, courtly Mr. Cave arrives, and Ellen watches in increasing despair as he successfully identifies one grove after another. Enter a mysterious unnamed young stranger who suddenly appears by Ellen's side, escorting her from tree to tree, charming her with dozens of stories, each clearly tied to the names of the eucalyptus. Bursting with Latin terms and tree characteristics intended to serve as metaphors for life and love, this novel (whose author won Australia's National Book Award for Homesickness in 1986) may appeal to romantics with a special interest in the botanical. A marginal purchase for large public libraries.—Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI
Library Journal

A fable-like novel from prizewinning Australian writer Bail (Homesickness) poses an age-old question: How do you win a woman's heart? After Holland brings his small motherless daughter to his newly purchased estate in New South Wales, the two find themselves wandering the property and grand house seemingly without much purpose. But as the years pass, and as Ellen grows into a great beauty, Holland plants eucalyptus trees, every variety he can get, hundreds upon hundreds, virtually filling the once barren landscape with a 'museum of trees.' Meanwhile, Ellen's radiance becomes the talk of the town, the county, and the country, with her sun-dappled loveliness and isolation likened to those of a princess in a tower. Then, when she's almost 20, Holland devises a trial for suitors who want to win his daughter's hand in marriage, a presumably impossible test that will keep her close to him: each suitor must name and identify every tree on the property. And, of course, many fall by the wayside until a certain Mr. Cave shows up. An expert on eucalyptus trees, the serious-minded Cave seems a likely winner, trudging up and down the property with Holland, identifying the trees. Meanwhile, Ellen, who's come to hate the naming of trees, takes solace in the forest created for her, and there meets a mysterious young man. He tells Ellen stories, almost all of them centering on a father, a daughter, and the theme of misguided love. As Mr. Cave gets closer to identifying all the specimens, Ellen and the stranger's meetings become more erotic, the stories more urgent. Finally, just as Cave successfully concludes Holland's test, Ellen falls ill. It seems that only storytelling can remedy her despondency.
Kirkus Reviews

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