Murray Bail was born in Adelaide in 1941. Homesickness, his first novel, won the National Book Award for Australian Literature and the Melbourne Age Book of the Year Award. Holden's Performance, first published in 1988, won the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction. Eucalyptus was the winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Miles Franklin Literary Award. Murray Bail's non-fiction includes an acclaimed monograph on the work of the painter Ian Fairweather and Longhand, A Writer's Notebook.
Murray Bail's Eucalyptus is his first novel in more than a decade, and a welcome appearance it is. It is audacious in interesting ways: in a variation on a classical fairytale, a 19-year-old woman, Ellen Holland, living with her widowed father on a property in western NSW, is promised in marriage to the first man who can correctly identify the many hundreds of species of eucalypt which have obsessively planted on the land. It's a risky storytelling device (the destructive naivety of the father and reductive monomania of the principal suitor are dominant in the first part of the story) but Bail evokes a powerful landscape convincingly. The appearance in the narrative of a mysterious stranger who appears, with his magical stories, to lift our heroine from her increasing despondency about her future, transforms the novel. In engaging her in life's richness and possibilities through his tales, he rescues her, gives the novel an emotional and aesthetic depth, and provides a beautiful twist to the notion of storytelling itself, thereby pulling off a difficult narrative feat. David Gaunt is co-proprietor of Gleebooks, Glebe (NSW). C. 1998 Thorpe-Bowker and contributors