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Homesickness: A Novel Paperback – September 10, 1999

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st Farrar, Straus, and Giroux ed edition (September 10, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780374172473
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374172473
  • ASIN: 0374172471
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,757,388 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

You know you've entered Murray Bail territory when, in the first chapter of Homesickness, his 13 Australian tourists on a once-in-a-lifetime, round-the-world tour visit a museum in Africa: "Under glass three English toothpaste tubes were at different stages of use: full, half full (thumb-dented tube, white worm protruding), and a fine example of a completely empty one, squeezed dry, corrugated, curled and scratched. Alongside lay a pair of false teeth and arrows pointing back to the toothpaste. The teeth alone were a source of wonder." This Museum of Handicrafts also boasts several British lawnmowers, a French cigarette-rolling machine, a soda-water siphon, and a color TV that, "because there is no television in Africa, the dark continent" is filled with lime-green water, brightly colored fish and a baby crocodile, instead. If his hapless characters are nonplussed by what they find in this unnamed country, readers familiar with Bail's Eucalyptus will instantly recognize the universe in which they tread: this is epic fable at its finest.

One would expect a story about a package tour of ill-matched compatriots to be heavy on the personal, but in fact Bail doesn't spend much time developing his characters. They are, for the most part, an unsavory bunch, albeit with a few interesting quirks. (Is Mr. Kaddok, the obsessive photographer, really blind, or just pretending to be?) And aside from their names and their predilections, we never get much insight into what they think or why they do what they do. Instead, Bail seems more interested in the situation. There is no plot-heavy or character-driven series of events leading inexorably towards climax and denouement. Rather, the author gives us a set of destinations dotted with strange tourist attractions and punctuated by his characters' responses to them. What makes it all work is Bail's peculiar, particular point of view. Take, for example, his explanation of the Australian "nasal twang":

Such vocal adjustments are needed to reduce the bloody velocity of words in the wide spaces and emptiness of Orstraliah. Words would otherwise travel too far. A similar speech blur evolved in the United States of America. By contrast it seems that the British enunciate clearly in order to penetrate the humidity and hedges, the moist walls and alleyways, as well as the countless words used by previous citizens...
Or the bizarre array of sites they visit: a Corrugated Iron museum, a collection of "Great Brains," and an Institution of Marriage, to name just a few. By the time the tourists reach their final destination, readers will already have deduced what the characters may never fully understand--that in this world of colliding cultures, compulsive tourism, and economic imperialism, everybody is a stranger, even in his own land. But if, in the end, all the world's a museum and all the people in it merely exhibits, at least Murray Bail is writing the gallery labels. Homesickness, first published in 1980, may not appeal to every reader, but for those looking for exquisite writing coupled with a highly developed sense of the absurd, this book fills the bill. --Alix Wilber


"[Homesickness] revealed Bail as a prickly and extravagant comedian, and its portrait of a young country trying overearnestly to connect with its Old World heritage was as poignant as it was humorous."--Michael Upchurch, The New York Times Book Review on Eucalyptus

"A bizarre, playful and at times hilarious set-up of globetrotting."--The Observer

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Eric J. Matluck on May 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
There are few literary movements as appealing to me as surrealism. Kafka, of course, was quite the master, and others have tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to follow his example. Then along comes Murray Bail, with this linguistically dazzlingly novel, who, in his own way, goes Kafka one better. Where Kafka described the bizarre with a serene, well-modulated prose, Bail describes the bizarre in a strangely halting, off-kilter syntax that so effectively puts us in the same plane as the strangeness he describes that it begins to take on a logic of its own.
Thus, when our group of 13 world travelers find themselves in New York, at a hotel that's in the process of being demolished, we barely blink at the description of the desk clerks wearing hard hats or the convention of rock climbers who are already making their way through the rubble. We don't blink, but we do smile.
And what can one say about any novel that features Roy G. Biv, with his "orange hair" and "blue nose" (complementary colors!) as a character who works at a cartographers in London? Or is his establishment merely an repository of words, nonce and otherwise?
Yet for all of the generous comedy that Bail provides, there is a creeping sense of darkness; not so much that nothing is what it seems (though it certainly is not!) but that the lives of the characters themselves, so "usual," so "settled," also seem so unbearably empty.
Make no mistake about it, this is not a "comic" novel. It's dark, haunting and, more often than not, devastatingly insightful. Murray Bail has created a masterpiece of the surreal. Anyone who warms to the profound disturbances of George Tooker or the often suffocating loneliness of Edward Hopper (one really must rely on painters as one's closest point of reference) will respond to this book.
And if it's any indication of my response, I've never reviewed a book for Amazon before. What a place to start!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Steven Reynolds on July 13, 2004
Format: Paperback
The typical, magical Murray Bail moment is this: a humorous, strange, near-slapstick incident is narrated in a contrastingly high scientific-philosophical language, and slyly worked into a powerful metaphor for something far more serious and intellectually engaging than you would ever have thought possible, let alone expected. He does it repeatedly in his short stories (see his marvellous collection, 'The Drover's Wife and Other Stories', the title one being a deserved OzLit classic), and this novel is chock full of them. They range from the surreal and savagely political - such as the Museum of Handicrafts, the 'pygmy collection', and the 'verification' of Lenin's corpse - right down to the simplest of incidents, like a tourist cart-wheeling down some steps, or a freak accident involving the American flag. As his thirteen ill-matched Australians tour through Africa, England, Ecuador, America and Russia, Bail treats the reader to a series of elaborately crafted metaphorical sequences illuminating his major theme, which seems to be 'museum culture' (for want of a better term), i.e. the contingency of reality in a postmodern world, and the difficulty post-colonial peoples such as Australians encounter in defining themselves and their nation within it. Time after time, Bail captures so beautifully the multivalence of the ordinary - that sense that the everyday is both absurd and profound, and in equal measure. The combination of high voice and low comedy I mentioned is perfect for this kind of story. It's a wonderfully destabilizing technique - the reader is never quite sure where Bail 'is coming from', as our American friends might say.Read more ›
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By choiceweb0pen0 VINE VOICE on October 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
Homesickness is the second novel I've read by Bail. It reads well though not as well as 'Eucalyptus'. From my own limited experience in traveling, 'Homesickness' does an excellent job of capturing the stereotypical tourist comparing every country to their own, usually in a less than flattering manner, sending home postcards with generic statements, and trying to go native. The museums the characters of the novel visit are strange, bordering on plain weird. From the (literal) Institution of Marriage to a corrugated metal museum, Bail leads us through each one with subtle humor. His sketch of each destination is done well, especially New York City and Russia. While this is an interesting novel, though the average reader might get lost by references to various aspects of Australia culture, I liked his more recent novel, 'Eucalyptus'. I think readers who travel a lot will find much of this novel amusing and dead on. A few of the sentence structures are strange such as missing commas or the syntax in unusual order that I had to reread a second time to understand. Just before Bail dumps the Australian tourists on their last trip to Russia, he provides his own experiences in Russia, which seemed like he wanted to include this extra material for the heck of it.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Difficult to read this style of writing. Had to re-read paragraphs. On the whole I enjoyed it. Will recommend it.
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