In The Strays, Evan Trentham is the wild child of the Melbourne art world of the 1930s. He and his captivating wife, Helena, attempt to carve out their own small niche, to escape the stifling conservatism they see around them, by gathering together other like-minded artists. They create a utopian circle within their family home, offering these young artists a place to live and work, and the mixed benefits of being associated with the infamous Evan. At the periphery of this circle is Lily Struthers, the best friend of Evan and Helena's daughter Eva.
Lily is infatuated by the world she bears witness to, and longs to be part of this enthralling makeshift family. As Lily observes years later, looking back on events that she still carries painfully within her, the story of this groundbreaking circle involved the same themes as Evan Trentham's art: Faustian bargains and terrible recompense; spectacular fortunes and falls from grace. Yet it was not Evan, nor the other artists he gathered around him, but his own daughters, who paid the debt that was owing.
Read Caroline Baum's Review
Inspired by the bohemian art world of 1930s Melbourne this is a marvellously accomplished and assured debut, announcing a major new talent. Rich in atmosphere and beautifully observed, it tells the story of only child Lily who makes friends with Eva at school and then becomes infatuated with her family, particularly larger-than-life painter Evan and his glamorous wife Helena.
Lily tells the story of her progressive enchantment with their home, their garden, their friends and their expanding creative circle of strays from a retrospective point of view, as an adult now faced with the prospect of reunion with Eva after a long separation: a gallery opening invitation brings back sharp and painful memories of intense relationships.
Poetic, richly visual and faultlessly judged in terms of pace, character and atmosphere, this is writing that has the rich patina of an enduring classic. A stylish and mature addition to the rites of passage, coming of age genre.
About the Author
Emily Bitto lives in Melbourne. She has a Masters in literary studies and a PhD in creative writing from the University of Melbourne, where she is also a sessional teacher and supervisor in the creative writing program. Her writing has appeared in various publications, including Meanjin, Heat, Harvest, The Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Literary Review. The manuscript of her debut novel, The Strays, was shortlisted for the 2013 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript.
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Comments about The Strays:
This novel won the 2015 Stella Prize for best Australian women's writing. I have read a number of the other short list books and out of those, this book clearly deserves that award.
There are some awkward phrases and over explanations of certain actions but they don't overtake the slow burning effect of the novel.
The protagonist is an older woman reminiscing about her past - in a similar style of Jessica Anderson's Tirra Lira by the River, another masterpiece of Australian writing. Her older perspective looking back highlights the significant impact that adult role models have on youth. The subtle and slow build up of the story is well executed with a long exclamation point of a decent look back at impact of the story's main events on the extended life of the character.
Australian women writers have a great ability to play out a whole life on a page while still displaying single and dramatic events.
I thoroughly recommend this book.
Comments about The Strays:
An interesting fictional memoir with engaging references to almost real life events. Well written, though prokoving, unexpected.
'Treating this novel as a historical fiction risks missing some of its breadth of insight. The Strays is an eloquent portrayal of the damage caused by self-absorption as well as a moving study of isolation.' -The Saturday Age. 'You could lift out any sentence in The Strays and admire the sheer artistry of its melody and composition. What's especially wonderful about Bitto's literary novel is the s
Published: 1st May 2014
Publisher: Affirm Press
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 20.9 x 13.6 x 2.3
Weight (kg): 0.32