Emily Bitto

Books Clare Forster, Curtis Brown Australia Email Clare Forster

The Strays

Winner Stella Prize 2015
book | Fiction | May 2014
ANZ → Affirm Press
US → Twelve (Ed. Deb Futter)
Canada → Penguin (Ed. Adrienne Kerr)

 Emily Bitto’s debut novel has been inspired by aspects of the legacy of the renowned Heide group of artists and writers, which included controversial figures such as Sidney Nolan and John and Sunday Reed, whose private lives were as controversial as their creations.

On her first day of school, Lily Struthers meets Eva, one of the daughters of the infamous avant-garde artist 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 artist colony, longing to truly belong to this makeshift family.

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.

The Strays is an engrossing story of ambition, sacrifice and compromised loyalties from an exciting new talent.


Kate Cooper manages the translation rights for The Strays

Translation Rights Sold

Porto Editora

The Strays is an enticing story of deep, girlhood friendship gone wrong, and of the probability that all will not end well when a set of strong minds is thrown together under one roof and jealousy abounds.

This is also a clever tale with more than one surprising twist at its heart.

The Weekly Times

The Strays deftly weaves together the past and the present in a compelling exploration of belonging, loyalty and ambition. Paddy O’Reilly

This is a beautifully written novel: intelligent, lyrical and wondrous. Bitto is an elegant writer who knows how to sustain suspense. Kalinda Ashton

The Strays is a perfectly crafted novel … an immediately engaging and tender story taking hold of the reader from the first pages. Emily Bitto is without doubt a writer to remember and follow in the future. Tony Birch

... Bitto has a deep interest in the transformative power of memory, in how life’s chaos is shaped into story, its each retelling laying down a fresh stratum of personal and cultural meaning. The Strays has the earthy feel of what David Malouf calls the most exotic place – the one we grew up in.
Australian Book Review
Full Review

Emily Bitto’s debut novel, The Strays, is a compulsively readable story of ... parental narcissism and female friendship.
Readings Newsletter
Full Review

One of the most highly anticipated debuts of 2014....it certainly lives up to the hype.
Books + Publishing Magazine

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. Caroline Baum

Although Bitto has older half-siblings, her singular perspective gave her insight into the point of view of the outsider. Like many singletons, she was fascinated by the messy chaos of larger clans.

Caroline Baum
The Age

The Strays is, basically, a terrific novel and I was certainly captured by it from the very beginning. Vladimir Nabokov famously noted that good novels needed to entertain the reader, to educate the reader and to enchant the reader - but of all these qualities, enchantment is the most crucial of them all and The Strays was as enchanting for me as the Trentham Family is for Lily. Chris Womersley, author of BEREFT
Full Review

Another favourite this year was The Strays (Affirm Press), Emily Bitto's hugely impressive first novel. The long central section, a meditation on family and friendship set in the 1930s Melbourne art scene, is magical. Bitto creates a world so densely imagined that it seems not just real but part of the reader's own past – and she does it in lovely prose.

Michelle de Kretser
Sydney Morning Herald

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 story never feels weighed down by style. It’s an immensely pleasurable read.

Bookseller + Publisher

Bitto writes beautifully, her prose supple and satisfying, her insights and extended metaphors worth lingering over. Of particular note are her characters’ perceptive comments on art and her visceral understanding of the only child’s ever-unrequited hunger for inclusion – an inclusion that always falls short of the familial, however vexed or careless that familial connection may appear.

The Adelaide Advertiser

Emily Bitto has written a very stylish and enjoyable debut novel.

The Sunday Mail

With a skilful use of perspective and memory, and a dual adult–child point of view, Bitto reaches far beyond the well-documented narratives and myths of the Heide players to widen and enrich the notion of the artist as mad or bad or eccentric.

Kristina Olsson
Readings Monthly

Her observations are exquisite and the language has a voluptuous shimmer to it, like honey rolling off a spoon. Reading this book felt like an aesthetic experience.

The Idle Woman

Reading this novel I realized its the kind of book I love best: the young girl narrating the story that she cannot understand. Because of the precision of the prose, however, the reader perfectly understands the folly of the adult world and the perilous life the children must somehow try to survive.

Jane Hamilton, author of A Map of the World

Riveting, captivating, with a sense of foreboding threaded throughout. The Strays is such a daring look at art and love and family that you'll want to clear your calendar: you'll be reading it in a day.

Whitney Otto, author of How to Male an American Quilt

A haunting evocation of life-changing friendship. Stylishly written (an elegant woman is “pale and long and light, like a taper”), The Strays is a marvel of setting and characterisation, re-creating a time of artistic revolution and personal revelation. Memorable and moving, this is a novel not to be missed.


Explores with quiet passion both the cost of creative life on family and the definition of family itself.

Kirkus Reviews

Emily Bitto writes so well about art, childhood, infatuation, loneliness - you name it. The Strays is a knowing novel, and beautifully done.

Meg Wolitzer, author of The Interestings

Emily Bitto’s The Strays is a powerful and precisely imagined journey into the lives of two girls growing up in the avant-garde artistic milieu of post-war Australia.

Paul Kane, award-winning author of Welcome Light

Reminiscent of Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Sybille Bedford’s Jigsaw, or A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book The Strays is like a gemstone: polished and multifaceted, reflecting illuminations back to the reader and holding rich colour in its depths.

The Stella Prize Judges’ Report

remarkable first novel

Sophie Gilbert
The New York Times

Told in both the breathless voice of an easily infatuated child and the more measured tones of a wiser adult, The Strays is a powerful tale of the consequences of creativity.

Lauren Bufferd
BookPage, US

Lyrical first novel… Lily is a thoughtful and articulate observer

Publishers Weekly

The Strays showcases a dazzling, gabby and ultimately doomed collection of stray human beings… Word pictures elevate the ordinary to exquisite… With precise and graceful turns of phrase, Bitto reveals the bond of passion between the two girls… and she delivers all of this with a grace and eloquence.

New York Public Radio, US

told with impressive intensity… the strong bonds, bleak outcomes and moral struggles of its central female characters give The Strays its substance.

The Guardian

The Strays is a marvellous accomplished and assured debut, announcing a major new talent. Rich in atmosphere and beautifully observed.

Caroline Baum

Told mainly through Lily's memories of that exhilarating time, The Strays is about the desire to belong and the allure of creativity - and the consequences of flames that burn too bright.

Stacy Lee Kong
Canadian Living
Full Review

“showcases a dazzling, gabby and ultimately doomed collection of stray human beings… Word pictures elevate the ordinary to exquisite… With precise and graceful turns of phrase, Bitto reveals the bond of passion between the two girls… and she delivers all of this with a grace and eloquence.”

Jean Zimmerman

[...] this remarkably sure-footed debut novel becomes a study of the depths and loss of female friendship. 

Jade Colbert
The Globe and Mail