Book review: The Strays by Emily Bitto

20922715The book:

The Strays by Emily Bitto
Paperback, 290 pages
Published August 15th 2016 by Legend Press

The blurb:

On her first day at a new school, Lily meets Eva, one of the daughters of the infamous avant-garde painter Evan Trentham. He and his wife are attempting to escape the stifling conservatism of 1930s Australia by inviting other like-minded artists to live and work with them at their family home. As Lily’s friendship with Eva grows, she becomes infatuated with this makeshift family and longs to truly be a part of it.

Looking back on those years later in life, Lily realises that this utopian 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.

My thoughts:

I do enjoy a story about a dysfunctional family, and despite some issues I had with this novel I still thoroughly enjoyed it, and the cast of interesting characters.

The book was set in the 1930s and had a cast of artistic characters who were happy to let the girls in the family run free. Unfortunately, there was nothing in the novel that really made it feel very 1930s (other than the central art movement) and it felt a lot more like the 60s or 70s. This was a missed opportunity as I think a stronger sense of time and place would have further enhanced the novel.

I also could have done without the perspective of the narrator 30+ years later, and the reunions that took place added little to the book for me.

But despite this I found the book compulsive reading, I loved the characters – even the neglectful parents – and Lily’s view of the family from an outsider’s perspective. She is the perfect narrator as she can give us the full outsider’s view from her coveted position inside the crazy household. The artists and their communal way of living was also interesting, and the way the parents’ behaviour affects the different sisters – particularly poor ignored Heloise – worked well. A fab read.

My rating: 9 out of 10


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