Eucalyptus turns up as a favorite on many Australian book lists. It is a fairy tale of a story about a man who is able to buy a huge farm in western New South Wales because his insurance policy betting that his wife would have twins paid off. She and the boy baby died shortly thereafter, leaving Holland with a pile of money and a daughter Ellen.
Holland bought a large farm and undertook to plant as many varieties of eucalyptus trees as he could. He ordered nameplates to identify each of the trees but did not display them. Ellen grew up to be astonishingly beautiful; a local young man who saw her swimming naked immediately thereafter had a motorcycle wreck and was blinded. Holland declared that any man who could identify each eucalyptus on his farm would win her hand. As there were more than 500, Ellen assumed she would never marry. For weeks Mr. Cave, a man much more suited to be her father's companion than her husband, worked to name each of the trees. Meanwhile, Ellen encountered a stranger who told her stories, or more often, fragments of stories that had some connection to the eucalypts they saw. He disappeared as Mr. Cave closed in on the prize. And Ellen took to her bed.
WARNING: END OF THE STORY ABOUT TO BE TOLD HERE!
Ellen seemed to be near the end when the stranger reappeared at her bedside. He joined her in bed and began telling his story; it turns out he ran the business that created the nameplates for the trees, qualifying him as able to "identify all the eucalypts on the farm and thus to marry Ellen."
Yikes. The tone is distant, light, and fanciful (of course). The references to countless eucalypts and their wonderful common and scientific names is loving and reverential. You can tell he loves to write about the Ghost Gum (perhaps the most beautiful tree on earth), the River Red Gum, the Weeping Gum, the Spotted Gum, and the five different Scribbly Gums. How strange it is that Australia has so many varieties of one tree.
I was taken with a wonderful little bit early in the book:
A paragraph is not so different from a paddock--similar shape, similar function. And here's a connection worth pondering: these days, as paddocks are becoming larger, the corresponding shift in the cities where the serious printing's done is for paragraphs smaller.
This goes on about newspaper writers trailing after the non-ordinary to write small paragraphs about them, "when everybody knows that a brief rectangular view is not enough."