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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Eucalyptus

by
Murray Bail


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Eucalyptus



Title: Eucalyptus
Author: Murray Bail
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998
Length: 255 pages
Availability: Eucalyptus - US
Eucalyptus - UK
Eucalyptus - Canada
Eucalyptus - India
Eucalyptus - France
Eukalyptus - Deutschland
Los eucaliptos - España
  • Won Miles Franklin Award, 1999
  • Shortlisted for 1998 The Age Book of the Year

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Our Assessment:

B : a solid, inventive work, with enough sparkle.

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age B- 13/6/1998 Helen Daniel
Australian Book Review . 6/1998 Peter Craven
Christian Science Monitor . 22/10/1998 Heather Fabian
Daily Telegraph A 18/7/1998 .
The Economist A 13/5/2000 .
Evening Standard A 22/6/1998 Francis Spufford
The Guardian B- 4/7/1998 Natasha Walter
The Hindu A 14/6/1998 David Davidar
The Independent A 27/6/1998 Alison Huntley
London Rev. of Books . 16/7/1998 Nicholas Jose
The NY Times Book Rev. A 4/10/1998 Michael Upchurch
The Spectator A+ 1/8/1998 Michael Hulse
The Times A 26/5/1998 Erica Wagner
TLS A- 3/7/1998 Stephen Henighan
Washington Post A- 22/11/1998 Jack Sullivan
World Literature Today . Winter/2000 Robert Ross

  From the Reviews:
  • "This is an intricately crafted novel, full of fairy-tale echoes from Rapunzel to Sleeping Beauty. Though there are some scenes involving nudity, the romance is gracefully portrayed. Bail has written a wonderful light romance, but not one to take lightly." - Heather Fabian, Christian Science Monitor

  • ""Magical" is a tricky word to use about a work of fiction. It carries resonances of something fey, insubstantial and whimsical. Eucalyptus, however, is that rare thing: a book whose author has succeeded in harnessing the seductive format of the fairy story and transforming it into something quite distinctive -- neither fantastical nor realistic, but an elegant, humane, funny and wise journey to the interior of the human heart." - Daily Telegraph

  • "Eucalyptus is an altogether different kind of fairytale. It is slyly witty, full of knowing asides, false starts and playful indirection. (...) For all its concern with naming, however, the novel itself stubbornly defies categorisation. It is sui generis: part fairytale, part catalogue, part love story, wholly original." - The Economist

  • "Although the blatant artifice and the self-reflexive emphasis on storytelling sound like a recipe for one more postmodern opus ready to vanish up its own Woollybutt, this is in fact a book full of slow light and patient individual revelation. The secret is that voice. (...) Buy the book. You won't have read anything like it." - Francis Spufford, Evening Standard

  • "It's a masterpiece." - Michael Hulse, The Spectator

  • "(A) modern fairy-tale, potentially as negligible as it is improbable, invested with telling thematic resonances through its deft composition and sensitively cadenced narrative voice. (...) Bail renders this unlikely story charming, and even profound, through his artful balancing of narrative and digression. (...) Bail generates a fictional hybrid. Eucalyptus reads like one of Patrick White's elaborate allegories, taken over by an affable Australian cousin of Italo Calvino." - Stephen Henighan, Times Literary Supplement

  • "In Eucalyptus he remains true to form: altogether Australian but always more -- that is, provincial and universal at the same time. (...) Bail carries out all of this meandering, circling, questioning, and retracing in his usual quirky style that constantly surprises and intrigues." - Robert Ross, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Murray Bail's unusual novel, set in his native Australia, does, to a large extent revolve around eucalypti, a tree that grows in a bewildering variety. Set mainly on a large property in the outback it centers around Holland and his daughter Ellen. Holland has planted eucalyptus trees of every sort all across his property. When his daughter is of marriageable age he sets a condition for her suitors: she will wed only a man who is able to identify every type of eucalyptus on the property.
       The test makes the attractive Ellen an even more enticing prize, and people come from far and wide trying to win her hand. The exercise is nearly impossible, but Bail does not dwell on the many failures. A true contender soon arrives, Mr.Cave, himself an expert. Day after day he goes with Holland, naming the trees, closing in on the prize. A counterpart appears, a nameless stranger who recounts odd and fanciful stories to Ellen, and these two forms of narrative -- the dry, latinate technical, and the wildly imagined -- battle it out, side by side, in this bizarre contest of a book.
       Mr. Bail does many things well. His evocation of Australia is splendid, his observations pin-prick perfect. Languorous, motherless Ellen, raised by Holland, a stranger in the strange land of the countryside as well as the city (she spends some time in Sydney), drifts beautifully along with the story. She is surprisingly incomplete, but in the fairy-tale sense of this story she is a worthy prize.
       The obsessed Holland, who does not even seem to understand his own obsession, is also an interesting character, whereas the stranger remains shadowy. The reader's sympathies are also unlikely to be with Mr.Cave.
       Some of the spaces are too open, some of the characterization and plotting too shallow, but it is an inventive and often amusing story. We do recommend it.

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Links:

Eucalyptus: Reviews: Murray Bail: Other books by Murray Bail under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Australian literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Australian author Murray Bail was born in Adelaide in 1941. Winner of the Australian National Book Award (for Homesickness).

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