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Eucalyptus [Paperback]

Murray Bail
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 21 2007

Winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year
On a property in New South Wales, a widower named Holland lives with his daughter, Ellen. Over the years as she grows into a beautiful woman, Holland plants hundreds of different eucalyptus trees on his land, filling the landscape, making a virtual outdoor museum of trees. When Ellen is nineteen, Holland announces that she may only marry the man who can correctly name the species of each and every gum tree on his property. A strange contest begins, and Ellen is left unmoved by her suitors until she chances on a strange young man resting under the Coolibah tree whose stories will amaze and dazzle her. A modern fairy tale, and an unforgettable love story, that bristles with spiky truths and unexpected wisdom about art, feminine beauty, landscape, and language. Eucalyptus affirms the seductive power of storytelling itself.

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From Amazon

"The idea that Holland's daughter was like the princess locked in the tower of a damp castle was of course false. After all, she was living on a property in western New South Wales."

Once upon a time, on a property in western New South Wales, a man named Holland plants hundreds of varieties of eucalyptus trees, then decrees that only the suitor who can name each and every one of them will be worthy to marry his beautiful daughter, Ellen. Men try and fail: there is the gentle schoolteacher who "had correctly named eighty-seven eucalypts and was doing it well when he went blank at the fatly handsome Jarrah up against the fence behind the house"; and the New Zealander who "came up against, and was defeated by, one of the many Stringybarks..." Old men, young men, commercial travelers, sheep-shearers--even a "smiling Chinaman ... all the way from Darwin." Not one is successful. Then, one day, along comes Mr. Roy Cave, a man renowned in the eucalyptus world, someone who "employed with lip-smacking relish the terms 'petiole,' 'inflorescences,' 'falacte' and 'lanceolate,' and he was also comfortable with 'sessile', 'fusiform' and 'conculorous.'"

Even in so wonderfully fractured a fairy tale as Murray Bail's Eucalyptus, it's obvious that Roy Cave is hardly the stuff romantic dreams are made of. Indeed, despite her father's warning to "beware of any man who deliberately tells a story," Ellen's Prince Charming turns out to be a mysterious young stranger who finds her wandering among her father's trees and spins her tale after tale, each one tied to a different kind of eucalypt. As the weeks go by, Mr. Cave continues to successfully identify every tree on the property, thus drawing ever closer to his prize. Meanwhile, Ellen's other suitor captures first her imagination and then her heart with stories of apprentice hairdressers who fall in love with plain-Jane heiresses; solicitors' daughters involved with married men; and lonely canary breeders who almost find happiness with spinster piano teachers. What all of these off-kilter stories have in common is a theme of missed opportunities, and lovers who realize too late that they were made for each other. Will Ellen, too, end up like one of these the sad-hearted heroines, or will her would-be lover find a way to thwart Mr. Cave's relentless victory march through the Eucalypts to claim her hand?

There is so much to love about Bail's novel that it's difficult to identify exactly which of its qualities make it such a complete delight. Is it Ellen's "speckled beauty ... so covered in small brown-black moles she attracted men, every sort of man"? Is it the detailed descriptions of the landscape? The way Bail uses them to comment on human nature, on the nature of storytelling and of language itself ("a paragraph is not so different from a paddock--similar shape, similar function")? Or is it the wacky charm of the Scheharezade-like suitor's urban tales? ("Still in the vicinity of low-height eucalypts he went on to mention, in a thoughtful voice, how in an outer suburb of Hobart an actuary with a well-known insurance company needed a stepladder to woo a widow who passed by his house every day.") Whatever the source of Bail's peculiar magic, Eucalyptus casts a spell that will carry readers from first page to last and leave them wishing for a thousand and one more stories just like it. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Hard to get into April 30 2003
By H. Gale
Mainly a book of stories that wind around a plot, but for some reason, it works. It is about a girl named Ellen whose father is obsessed with his eucalyptus trees on a paddock in Australia. To find a husband for his daughter, he holds a contest: anyone who can name ALL of the species of eucalyptus on the property can have Ellen's hand. Many fail, but one who is kind and charming, but slightly arrogant, makes his first obligation naming the trees with her father; he barely pays Ellen any mind. The other man tries to win Ellen herself - the trees are secondary. He courts her by giving each tree a story, which makes up the better part of the book.
There is an airy feel to the story that makes it have a fairytale quality. I almost set it down halfway through because of its lack of substance. At points, it feels almost forced - like the author has to try very hard to get the tone he wants and only just makes it. The last half, howver, makes up for the beginning, though with facinating stories about imperfect people. It is a good attempt at a good idea, and that makes it worth the read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful story Nov. 28 2002
I first read this book several years ago after my husband gave it to me. At first, I wasn't sure I liked it, but I continued to read it and ended up loving it. Yes, the story uses eucalyptus trees as a tool to wrap the story around, and no, I'm not really interested in trees, but that's not the point. Mr Bail tells a beautiful tale of a father and daughter and their relationship. Of course, this story isn't 'believable' because few of us, if any, have heard lately of a real father requiring a man to name all the trees on his property before being allowed to marry his daughter. How silly! And yet what a wonderful outline for a fairy tale. Fairy tales usually are 'unbelievable'. Who really has 'ugly step-sisters' or ever saw a frog turn into a prince after kissing the princess, or knew a girl who fell in love with a hideous beast? This is a story! The father is oblivious to his daughter's desires and doesn't even know who she is at all. Yet she is precious to him and he requires what may be an impossible task of the man who will 'take' her from him. I think that's a noble, if outdated, emotion in a father. She meets the man of her dreams, almost dies because she will be forced to marry a man she could never love, and is brought back to life by her lover. She falls under his spell because of the odd, enchanting stories he tells her. Of course the stories have no endings, but they are tales that spark her interest and imagination. I found those little pieces of stories fascinating. All women should be so fortunate that they can be made so happy with simple tales told by the man they love. So, I recommended this book to my latest book group, not sure if I or they would find it as wonderful as I remembered it. I did, but we have not yet gotten together to discuss this book. I expect some people will hate it and others, I hope, will see the beauty I found in it.
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By Megami
This is the story of Holland and his daughter Ellen. Holland buys a property in the West of New South Wales, and starts to cover it with as many variations of the Eucalyptus tree that he can get his hands on. When Ellen comes of age, he decides that the man who marries her will be the man that can name every Eucalyptus on his property.
Now, this might not sound like much of a premise for a good story, but Bail manages to infuse it with a certain quality - it is almost like magical realism, but in a very Australian spirit. This lyrical story manages to encapsulate wonderful descriptions, both overt and covert, of the Australian landscape both outback and urban; and it also manages to provide descriptions of some wonderful characters that are really caricatures of Australian society. Even the Eucalyptus are given wonderfully descriptive passages that make you feel that they are almost as much characters in the story as the people. And within it all, Bail manages a tender, yet not 'gooey' love story. To the very close of the story (it did not feel like an ending at all) Bail held me captivated.
I would have thought that the very Australianness of this book would be a hurdle for foreign readers, yet reviewers around the globe have given it glowing praise. Eucalyptus is a difficult book to describe, but a very easy book to read. I think it would appeal to a wide range of readers - i suggest that if you have any desire at all to read it that you pick it up, and give it at least to half way through before judging it. I think many readers will be pleasantly surprised with this poetic story of a father, a daughter, her suitors and a lot of gum trees.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Tedious Dec 8 2000
This book is simply painful nonsense. A man demands that his daughter's suitors identify large numbers of trees on his farming property before one of them can win her hand. Many suitors turn up and fail in their task. The woman in question is said to have her face covered in black moles yet her beauty attracts men from as far away as New Zealand. At the climax (this word is used loosely) of the book one man is able to slowly reveal the names of the trees. At a the same time a tedious bore tells thousands of stories so lacking in interest and punch lines that any reader must be tempted to gnaw his arm of because of pure boredom.
The book seems to be set in the fifties as some of the characters have been through the Second World War. Even in the fifties country girls wouldn't allow their father to sell them of in an arranged marriage. No father would be so obsessed with trees that he would see it as the true indication of the man for his girl. In fact one would imagine that some medical professionals would be willing to put the father in a small hospital to rest and receive medical treatment.
The characters in the book are all two-dimensional and have no connection with reality. None of them talk about what normal people talk about, that is their jobs their aspirations their football teams or the latest film they have seen. Instead they tell stories. The father is meant to be some sort of farmer. Anyone who knows farmers knows that their jobs are backbreaking and time consuming. That most of their conversation and interest is in their work. With this character it is impossible to work out what he does or what sort of farm it is. He is a creation of a city living person who has no knowledge of the reality of farm life.
The book is meant to be a fable.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Lots of little stories bound together
Several years ago, a good friend in Australia sent me a package of Bush Tea. When I opened it, the pack contained a number of bags of black tea and a bunch of eucalyptus leaves. Read more
Published on April 5 2011 by Heather Pearson
5.0 out of 5 stars Active Reading
No, the book did not always flow. It was not exactly easy reading. I had to stop and think and re-read a few sentences. Read more
Published on Oct. 25 2003 by MATCFAMILY
4.0 out of 5 stars I got a little lost in a few spots...
...but that's not to say I didn't thoroughly enjoy this book at least 90% of the time. Eucalyptus feels more like a painting or a poem than a novel; there's a misty, surreal,... Read more
Published on June 27 2003 by Peggy Vincent
1.0 out of 5 stars A struggle
I wanted to enjoy this book but constantly found myself skimming along looking for some dialogue that would help me get to know the main characters. Read more
Published on Nov. 13 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars Good story
Got a bit wordy at times, come on and get to your point. But if you love descriptions and a good story, this is great.
Published on June 7 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical and lucid storytelling
Eucalyptus is the story of a man who possesses the largest collection of Eucalypt trees and a beautiful daughter, Ellen. Read more
Published on June 2 2001 by Miranda Tetlow
4.0 out of 5 stars A magical tale
I read this book while living in Australia. I decided that while I was there, I wanted to discover more Australian authors and Murray Bail was at the top of my list. Read more
Published on Oct. 18 2000 by shannu
4.0 out of 5 stars Magical storytelling, but a few snags along the way
Eucalyptus is not a book for everyone. Murray Bail does an amazing job of weaving stories together under the umbrella of the main character's plight (betrothed to whoever can... Read more
Published on Aug. 28 2000 by "wistfultigger"
4.0 out of 5 stars More than a botanist's novel.
A novel about Eucalyptus you ask? Yes and much more. I found the fable/fairy tale form of the plot intriguing. Read more
Published on April 29 2000 by choiceweb0pen0
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