Friday, 15 December 2017
Eucalyptus by Murray Bail
In a remote part of New South Wales, a farmer called Holland promises his daughter Ellen's hand in marriage to the man who can name the hundreds of species of eucalyptus trees that he has planted on his land. What follows is a fascinating meditation on the various species of eucalyptus (and I for one had no idea there were so many!) and on Ellen's state of mind as she watches various men come along and try to win her by pursuing a test set purely by her father.
Bail's writing is reminiscent of the late, great Patrick White (Australian winner of the 1973 Nobel Prize for literature) though without the seemingly wilful incomprehensibility that White sometimes injected into his work. So many lovely sentences and phrases here, some of which are intriguing:
'Anyway, don't you think the compliant pine is associated with numbers, geometry, the majority while the eucalypt stands apart, solitary, essentially undemocratic?'
The reader feels a great deal of sympathy for Ellen in this modern day fairy tale and hopes that somehow she will eventually have some say in her romantic future. The reader is likely to find Holland's attitude to his daughter's future inexplicable, which may undermine the enjoyment of the novel for some.
(In real life therefore, it's great to know that Australia, in a commitment to relationship equality, has just become the 25th country to recognise same sex marriage).
Eucalyptus by Murray Bail, published by Penguin.
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