Seated at the mirror a woman puts herself in the hands of the hairdresser; very often a male. It is an occasion, almost ceremonial; it is concentrated, partly sombre. The woman is robed. Hair is the only changeable part of the face. And it is hair that frames – and makes distinctive – the various concepts of feminine beauty. Shorn of hair a woman is reduced to essentials: hence, the all-to-appropriate symbolism of a woman having her head shorn before being paraded for sleeping with the enemy.
At the hairdresser a woman sees herself in the mirror at different stages of exposure. Behind her, at each stage, remains the hairdresser: First, the woman is washed and rinsed back to plainness; it is what she all along suspected. From there she follows with a critical-hopeful eye her transformation. The hairdresser becomes accustomed to tears. Even when the woman is satisfied with the result, she is also dissatisfied knowing her new appearance has been acquired, based as it is on illusion, an artful adjustment in the cutting, or an expansion in mid-air, as it were. Every woman has a firm opinion on the hair of others. Hair is power. In history as certain women gain in ascendency, so too their hairdressers.
Murray Bail, Eucalyptus, 168
Admittedly, I have a fairly elastic definition of ‘Top 5’ when it comes to including books in my ‘Top 5 of All Time’, however, Eucalyptus unquestionably belongs. Even just typing out the quote above has made me fall in love with it all over again. I think I have a man-crush on Murray Bail…
Look at those sentence, look at that punctuation!
There are so many hard surfaces, it is though the air was writing what it is like to be lived in. Everything is from no particular point. And yet it is the most intimate book I’ve read in forever. It is the country I grew up in, I can see the town, the people, smell the dirt. He has loved the land into a book. Eucalyptus feels like a conversation between two old men. Not endlessly self-referential, that would be an old woman’s book, outward looking but in a half private language built out of shared memories and experience.