book | Fiction | May 2014
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
This is also a clever tale with more than one surprising twist at its heart.
The Weekly Times
Australian Book Review Full Review
Readings Newsletter Full Review
Books + Publishing Magazine
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.
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.
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.
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.
Emily Bitto has written a very stylish and enjoyable debut novel.
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.
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.
Emily Bitto writes so well about art, childhood, infatuation, loneliness - you name it. The Strays is a knowing novel, and beautifully done.
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.
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.
remarkable first novel
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.
Lyrical first novel… Lily is a thoughtful and articulate observer
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.
told with impressive intensity… the strong bonds, bleak outcomes and moral struggles of its central female characters give The Strays its substance.
The Strays is a marvellous accomplished and assured debut, announcing a major new talent. Rich in atmosphere and beautifully observed.
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.
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.”
[...] this remarkably sure-footed debut novel becomes a study of the depths and loss of female friendship.
The Globe and Mail
The Strays shortlisted for the Reading Women 2017 Award
The Strays is shortlisted for the Historical Writers’ Association Debut Crown 2017
Emily Bitto receives Tina Kane Award
Andy Griffiths and Emily Bitto top 5 in Australian bestseller list
International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award Nominees Announced
Emily Bitto shortlisted for the Dobbie Award 2015
Emily Bitto shortlisted for NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 2015
Emily Bitto wins The Stella Prize 2015
Emily Bitto and Andy Griffiths shortlisted for the Indie Awards 2015