Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Book Review: Eucalyptus by Murray Bail

I was going to give up on this book. It's very lovely, atmospheric, poetic, but nothing happens, and I was getting very bored. I should have been able to finish it before I left for Australia but instead I was just past halfway. But then while I was in Australia, I really gave eucalyptus trees a second look. They are really everywhere. There are over 800 species, and while the plot of the book never really picked up for me, I did appreciate the attention it demanded I take of the humble and omnipresent gum trees, and so I did finish the book upon my return.

Holland is a widower, living with his stunningly beautiful daughter Ellen. One day he declares that whoever can name all of the 500+ species of eucalyptus trees lovingly planted on his property from all over Australia, will win Ellen's hand in marriage. Ellen doesn't have much reaction to this, until a man named Mr. Cave seems on the brink of succeeding, just as she meets a mysterious stranger who tells her captivating stories, and seems to know all the trees as well.

I can see this book working very well for a college course on contemporary literature. I could see, although I also knew I was missing, that there were a lot of themes and tropes throughout. The stories the mysterious stranger told were mostly about daughters and some about fathers (and this is pointed out bluntly, so I didn't figure this out on my own) but other trends are alluded to, though I did miss them. The dreamy atmosphere combined with the numbingly boring recitation of Latin scientific names for hundreds of trees, dulled my senses quite a bit. But it did remind me somewhat (and I'm not sure why) of Margaret Atwood's Surfacing. I can easily see that with some rereading and analysis, that some excellent papers on symbolism and themes could easily be written on Eucalyptus. However, just because a book would make for good English papers, doesn't make it necessarily a good read (in fact, I repeatedly experienced in school that often the best papers I wrote were on books I didn't enjoy at all, and I found it fairly frustrating that I would sometimes end up writing multiple papers on books I disliked, simply because the heavy-handed symbolism made for easy essays.) There's not much plot, there's not much character development (Ellen mostly is inert), there's no big climax really, and the book fell flat to me. That said, aside from the scientific terminology it wasn't at all a hard read, which is a big reason I actually finished it. But I did find it very staid, quiet, and uneventful. If you like poetry and romance, this book might be for you. But if you like plot and characters, I'd pick something else.

I borrowed this book from a friend.

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