By Murray Bail
Farrar Straus & Giroux
264 pp., $23
Murray Bail's romantic novel "Eucalyptus" is an engaging, endearing tale of a young woman's relationship with her father and her numerous suitors.
Central to this tale is her father's obsession with the many varieties of eucalyptus trees surrounding their new home in western New South Wales, Australia. He has decided that the only man worthy of his daughter, Ellen, is one who has a knowledge of the eucalyptus as great as his own. Any suitor must name every single eucalyptus tree in the collection. Needless to say, there are dozens of failures.
It slowly becomes obvious that her father's test, difficult as it is, will not produce a man who possesses the qualities Ellen has discovered she needs to fall in love. Through all this, Ellen begins to hate the trees that are keeping her from romance and marriage.
But while her suitors struggle, Ellen meets a mysterious stranger in the woods who tells her odd stories about different types of love and all somehow related to the various trees.
Like the storytelling stranger, the author of this book has interwoven his own miniature stories and theories, all related to the different types of eucalyptus. Many of the species are personified by different characters. Some stories are related to the appearance or behavior of a species. Through it all, the underlying theme of what constitutes true love is offered up to be pondered.
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 is a high school senior at The Principia in St. Louis.