Author: Murray Bail
Genre: Fiction/Literary Fiction Pages: 255
First published: 1998
Edition: Paperback, published by Text Publishing in 2000
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.
Oh boy, this book is quite something. It’s a Marmite book for sure (or should I say Vegemite?). You either read this and love it or absolutely hate it. It is THAT kind of book. It is one of the strangest books I have ever read, but I kind of loved it for that.
The tale has a fairytale quality to it and reading it is like being lost in a very strange world that smells of eucalyptus trees and is covered in the red dust of Australian soil. I love how it evokes the landscape and how it feels incredibly Australian.
The author never tells the reader enough and the writing is often vague, but somehow that works for me in this novel. The fact that events and conversations do not always make sense gives it an air of mystery and an ethereal quality without ever becoming that beautiful or lyrical. The way the story is told feels dreamlike, but in a rugged, harsh kind of way that simulates the environment. It is hard to explain.
The eucalyptus in its many forms is one of my favourite type of tree. In my early twenties I spent nine months travelling around Australia and everytime I come across a eucalyptus tree these days, it reminds me of the wonderful smells, sights and sounds I experienced there. It was one of the reasons I picked up this novel.
I am not sure who to recommend this novel to. It is so odd and unique. I guess if the synopsis speaks to you, then do give it a go. You might enjoy it, much as I did. Or you may absolutely hate it… Either way, you are bound to come away with some sort of opinion.
5 out of 7 stars