Eucalyptus A Novel

Murray Bail




Trade Paperback

264 Pages


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 Winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best BookA 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 that bristles with truths and unexpected wisdom about art, feminine beauty, landscape, and language, Eucalyptus affirms the seductive power of storytelling.


Praise for Eucalyptus

"You will never forget what is at the heart of this book—one of the great and most surprising courtships in literature."—Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient
"Incandescent . . . 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."—Michael Upchurch, The 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."—The Washington Post
"Murray Bail is one of our great imaginers and most timeless storytellers. Eucalyptus has an uncanny, displacing beauty; displacing because a reader feels that New South Wales, for all its exotic mystery, is at the immediate center of one's existence."—Howard Norman, author of The Bird Artist
“A fable-like novel from prizewinning Australian writer Bail 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 daughters 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 . . .  A wonderfully written, melodic novel: Bail takes a simple idea and lifts it above the trees and beyond the horizon.”—Kirkus Reviews
"Bail is a sort of Australian magic realist . . . 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 . . . 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 . . . tantalizing tales."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



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Murray Bail was born in Adelaide, South Australia, in 1941. His other work includes the novels Homesickness and Holden's Performance, the short-story collection Camouflage, Longhand: A Writer's Notebook and Notebooks 1970-2003. He lives in Sydney, Australia.
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  • Murray Bail

  • Murray Bail was born in Adelaide, South Australia, in 1941. His other work includes the novels Homesickness and Holden's Performance, the short-story collection Camouflage, Longhand: A Writer's Notebook and Notebooks 1970-2003. He lives in Sydney, Australia.
  • Murray Bail Copyright Anthony Browell