Aug 28, 2012

by English Muse

Once upon a time, there was a woman so beautiful that tales of her beauty spread throughout the world. When it came time for her to find a husband, her father put out the word: the first man to correctly name every eucalypt on his property would win his daughter’s hand in marriage.

It sounds like something out of Shakespeare. Or the Brothers Grimm. Or Homer. Even the daughter’s name is Ellen, just a tiny step away from that other famous and ill-fated beauty, Helen of Troy. But Eucalyptus by Murray Bail is a much more contemporary fairy tale, a strange romance set not in Troy or Bavaria or on Prospero’s island, but in the Australian bush.

Poor Ellen is powerless, as men from across the globe travel to her father’s land to name the eucalyptus trees. She mostly ignores them: after all they are wooing her father, not Ellen. But slowly she sinks further into despair. Then one day a stranger appears on the land, and he begins to tell stories. Stories and fragments of stories, mostly about women and families.

I read this book recently and I find it hard to describe except that the story was compelling while the language felt like water. Like submerging yourself in a cool river on a hot day. I read parts of it aloud to my baby daughter because she likes the sound of my voice as she drops off to sleep, and the words tasted a little bit like music in my mouth.

Eucalyptus is a wonderful read, steeped in Australian culture, and surprisingly refreshing (there’s that river again). I won’t spoil the ending for you, except to say that it was wholly… satisfying. It gave me an “I should have guessed” moment that sent me scuttling back through the pages for the clues I had missed. And it left me smiling. I didn’t expect that.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 28th, 2012 at 6:00 pm. It is filed under Books. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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6 Responses to “Antipodean dispatch: Eucalyptus”

  1. Sam says:

    Eucalyptus (and these pictures!) reminds me of the drive of the Northern California coast – though that’s a long way from Australia. I’ll have to read up on the book

  2. Naomi Bulger says:

    Sam I remember driving through parts of California and feeling weirdly at home for this very reason.

  3. Katie says:

    I was just thinking about fairy tales today, after talking to a friend who is writing her master’s thesis on a fairy tale (can’t recall the title). I need to go look for this one somewhere! It sounds beautiful.

  4. Naomi Bulger says:

    Katie I hope you find this book, you will love it. I’ve linked the title to Amazon if that helps. What an amazing subject for your friend’s thesis, too!

  5. look see says:

    This sounds great, looks like I’ll have to add it to my “to read” list!

  6. […] Antipodean dispatch: Eucalyptus (is anyone else devastated that this film didn’t […]

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