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On a property in New South Wales, a man named Holland lives with his daughter Ellen. As years pass and Ellen grows into a beautiful young woman, her father announces his decision: she will marry the first man who can name all the species of the eucalypt, down to the last tree.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9781860464959
ISBN-10: 1860464955
Format: Paperback
(200mm x 132mm x 17mm)
Pages: 272
Imprint: The Harvill Press
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 20-May-1999
Country of Publication: United Kingdom


UK Kirkus Review » There is a strong element of fairy tale to Bail's new novel, which is set in New South Wales at some time during the second half of the 20th century. Holland buys a house and a piece of land, to which he brings his young daughter, Ellen. He plants hundreds of different varieties of eucalyptus tree and when his daughter comes of age, Holland announces that he will give her hand in marriage to the man who can correctly name all the trees on his property. Suitors come from far and wide, but only an eminent botanist succeeds in performing the task. Meanwhile, Ellen, like any true fairy-tale princess, has fallen in love with a handsome stranger. Murray Bail's whimsical jeu d'espirit is an enjoyable read, displaying the author's own encyclopedic knowledge of eucalyptus trees, as well as his fondness for playing literary games. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » A fable-like novel from prizewinning Australian writer Bail (Homesickness, etc., not reviewed) poses an age-old question: How do you win a woman's heart? After Holland brings his small motherless daughter to his newly purchased estate in New South Wales, the two find themselves wandering the property and grand house seemingly without much purpose. But as the years pass, and as Ellen grows into a great beauty, Holland plants eucalyptus trees - every variety he can get, hundreds upon hundreds, virtually filling the once barren landscape with a "museum of trees." Meanwhile, Ellen's radiance becomes the talk of the town, the county, and the country, with her sun-dappled loveliness and isolation likened to those of a princess in a tower. Then, when she's almost 20, Holland devises a trial for suitors who want to win his daughter's hand in marriage, a presumably impossible test that will keep her close to him: each suitor must name and identify every tree on the property. And, of course, many fall by the wayside . . . until a certain Mr. Cave shows up. An expert on eucalyptus trees, the serious-minded Cave seems a likely winner, trudging up and down the property with Holland, identifying the trees. Meanwhile, Ellen, who's come to hate the naming of trees, takes solace in the forest created for her, and there meets a mysterious young man. He tells Ellen stories, almost all of them centering on a father, a daughter, and the theme of misguided love. As Mr. Cave gets closer to identifying all the specimens, Ellen and the stranger's meetings become more erotic, the stories more urgent. Finally, just as Cave successfully concludes Holland's test, Ellen falls ill. It seems that only storytelling can remedy her despondency. A wonderfully written, melodic novel: Bail takes a simple idea and lifts it above the trees and beyond the horizon. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Murray Bail

Murray Bail was born in Adelaide in 1941, and now lives in Sydney. His first novel, Homesickness, won the National Book Award for Australian Literature and the Melbourne Age Book of the Year Award. His subsequent novel, Holden's Performance, won the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction. His non-fiction includes an acclaimed monograph on the work of the painter Ian Fairweather.

Books By Author Murray Bail

Voyage by Murray Bail

The Voyage

Paperback / softback, February 2015
Homesickness by Murray Bail


Paperback, April 2012
Pages by Murray Bail

The Pages

Paperback, June 2009
Fairweather by Murray Bail


Hardback, April 2008