The Strays by Emily Bitto


Melbourne author Emily Bitto, who currently hails from inner Melbourne, has just recently won the 2015 Stella Prize for women’s writing for her debut novel, The Strays. Told from an outsider’s perspective, it is a beautiful and evocative novel of a romantic by-gone era. The novel is really set around four children; three are the daughters of the radical Trentham’s. Helena Trentham, glamorous, critical and uncaring, one of the few non-artists is from ‘old money’, all fabulously debauched and self absorbed in all things art. So much so, that despite their wealth and the love of their father Evan Trentham, the girls hunt for scraps of food left over from parties, virtually bringing themselves up. Into their lives comes Lily, from a conservative 1930’s era family. She desperately wants to fit into this wondrous and magical family and becomes a quasi-fourth daughter, best friend to the middle daughter Eva. They all run wild and free through the large family home and estate, that is highly reminiscent of Heide. It is through her eyes that we see the new radical art set arise in the Australian consciousness, as more and more artists become welcomed into the family’s enclave.  Even for those not interested in the history of modern art in Australia, this is a beautifully crafted tender novel of innocence, friendship and divided loyalties.
Review by Nicole Maher @ Great Escape Books