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The Strays

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  5,562 ratings  ·  655 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 290 pages
Published August 15th 2016 by Legend Press (first published April 30th 2014)
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Amy I agree with Rhonda about Lily and I think the colony fell apart because these were young idealistic people initially in their 20s, many initially sin…moreI agree with Rhonda about Lily and I think the colony fell apart because these were young idealistic people initially in their 20s, many initially single. As they paired up or became otherwise involved or increased their talents, like any group based on need and enthusiasm and youth, it was inevitable, change would occur as they matured and grew into their own lives.(less)

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Average rating 3.83  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,562 ratings  ·  655 reviews

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Feb 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
Like luxuriating in a long warm bath the writing is languid but completely engaging. I fell a little bit in love with this book. There’s nothing more intoxicatingly real and exciting than a childhood best friend, even when later on in life it’s revealed you actually have nothing in common. Childhood friendships become all consuming because they are completely absorbing, nothing else seems to matter outside of that friendship so when Lily befriends Eva she completely inhabits Eva’s world. Lily le ...more
Larry H
Jan 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley
I'd rate this 3.5 stars.

"Trying to describe my friendship with Eva is like showing the slides from a life-changing journey. The images can never break their borders and make their way into the body, into the nose, the ears, the entrails; they can never convey the feeling of profound change, brought about simply by altering one's place in the world."

Lily met Eva Trentham, the daughter of an infamous Australian painter, when they were young girls, on Lily's first day in a new school. An only child
Diane S ☔
Nov 26, 2016 rated it liked it
3.5 Melbourne, Australia, the 1930's and 40's art scene, Lily is eight when she first meets Eva and is introduced to the Trenthams. An only child, Lily considers her own family boring while Eva and her two sisters live a life that seems exciting, their father an Avant garde artist, their mother a glamorous if neglectful hostess. Trying to create an atmosphere where this new type of art can flourish they open their home to other artists, with disastrous results down the years. Our narrator is Lil ...more
Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
In the vein of Atwood's Cat's Eye and Emma Cline's The Girls, Emily Bitto's debut novel traces a young girl's experiences amidst the tumultuous lives of artists in an Australian art circle. It's a compelling story that focuses on female friendships, the lack of agency for women, and the drama of the art scene in early 20th century Australia. Though I found the middle dragged just a tiny bit, the book hooked me from the beginning and ended with quite a punch. I'll definitely keep an eye out for ...more
Britta Böhler
It's hard to believe this is a debut novel...
May 24, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: art-and-artists
I wonder if this novel is for sale in the Heide gift shop, alongside "The Heart Garden" and all those books examining Sunday Reed and her circle of complexly inter-relating artists.

Bitto says in her acknowledgements that the story is based on events in the Melbourne art scene of the thirties and forties, but that it is nonetheless a fiction, with no direct basis on actual artists. It must be hard, though, when writing of that time in this city, not to have bits of the various hagiographies wand
Feb 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-2018
Interesting coming of age story set in the budding modern art movement of Australia in the 1930's.

Lily and Eva are childhood friends. Lily is drawn to Eva's unconvential and bohemian family, which consists of Lily's artist father, his aloof wife, Eva's sisters Bea and Heloise and her parents' circle of free-spirited artist friends. Lily longs to be anything but ordinary and spends as much time as possible at Eva's home, Trentham Estate. Unfortunately, the glamorous and unorthodox adults that Li
Alice Lippart
A very compelling and captivating read. Loved reading about the friendship between the main characters and following them in such an important and intense part of their formative years.
Melbourne Library Service
Apr 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
I loved this book. A deeply absorbing and affecting story; I felt like I was part of the 1930s Melbourne artist community. I strongly related to the accounts of intense female friendships, especially those of the young girls. The best thing I’ve read this year.
Jul 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book reminded me a lot of the first part of "The Girls", which I was not able to finish. The reason I was able to keep reading The Strays is because it was a much more discreet in the neglect and abuse and I was able to leave more to my imagination and less vulnerable to the words of the author. Even though this story is is 'based' around the art scene in Melbourne, it is purely fictional. In the authors note, she states that all of the characters are fictional, but it was so convincing. Al ...more
I was really looking forward to reading this and it is also my pick for both my physical book club and my virtual one. But I must say I was slightly disappointed. Whilst I did enjoy it over all and found the story okay it didn't wow me. I think the part of me that over analyses and criticises kicked in and then I started finding fault. One thing that annoyed me right from the very beginning were the similarities to John and Sunday Reed of Heide fame. Now for someone that has read extensively on ...more
Karen Foster
Mar 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My favorite read of 2017 so far.... I loved this story of an artists commune of 'strays' set in 1930's Australia. The writing is just gorgeous... full of lush detail and evocative descriptions. This is a world of glamor and creativity on the surface, that barely hides the realities of parental neglect, petty jealousies and self-indulgence beneath. Lily, an only child of a conservative family, finds herself swept up in the life of the eccentric family of her friend Eva, daughter of an infamous mo ...more
Split between the 1930s and 80s and set amid the Australian art scene, The Strays is a compulsive tale of family, friendship, obsession and, most of all, secrets. Narrating the story from 1985, Lily, now in middle age, recalls her youthful (platonic) infatuation with Eva Trentham, one of three daughters of a mercurial pair of artists. The family has a tendency to take in waifs and strays, usually fellow artists who have fallen on hard times; as Lily's parents face increasing financial hardship, ...more
Deborah Ideiosepius
I found this to be an unexpectedly brilliant book!

A work of fiction set in Melbourne of the 1930's on the first day of school our narrator, Lilly unknowingly is drawn to and befriends Eva, the daughter of a brilliant yet unconventional artist Evan Trentham. He and his wife an daughters live an unconventional, chaotic bohemian life. Where art and the artistic ideal is the mainstay of everything. Also where the artistic temperament is central to the family and Lilly finds this lifestyle, which is
This is a remarkable debut novel by an Australian author to watch!
The Strays follows the story of Lily, who reflects on her youth in 1930s Melbourne. At the centre of her memories is Eva, the daring and charismatic daughter of an avant-garde painter. Eva's world is unconventional, wild, sensual, and inhabited by a bohemian group of artists reminiscent of the Heide Circle. This book was a pleasure to read, and marks Emily Bitto as an amazing new talent! Bitto has created an evocative, beautifully
Jun 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
Helena and I would like to invite you all to come and live with us here. We'd love to take in a few more strays, and we invite you all to quit your jobs and join our commune. Work and live side by side. So we can all thumb our noses at the rest of the world.

I found The Strays to be thoroughly compelling: Set in Melbourne and switching between the present and the height of the Depression, it tells the story of an artists' commune – a bohemian debauch of nudity and drugs and children left to fend
Apr 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, library, anz

"That garden. I still wander in dreams between the pale gray pillars of the lemon-scented gums, the eucalyptus citriodoras, towering out of mist, gigantic as they appeared to me as a child in that magical place."

It’s the kind of book that makes you (1) want to just read and read and read because it is that good; (2) feel like you shouldn’t read it so fast because it is a book to be savoured and sipped.

Also, this is a debut novel. Which means that while I may indeed look forward to what else Bitt
Catherine Hanrahan
Dec 04, 2014 rated it liked it
The Strays is Emily Bitto’s much lauded debut about an artist’s colony in 1930s Melbourne. She’s acknowledged that the story was influenced by the Heide circle around John and Sunday Reed, but is not based on it.

The frame story starts with middle-aged Lily receiving an invitation to a retrospective art exhibition of painter Evan Trentham, one of the early Modernists. It triggers memories of her association with the Trentham family, initiated when she meets Eva Trentham on her first day at school
Rating: 4.5/5.0

This is an awesome book and it is a remarkable debut novel for the author Emily Bitto, I feel the book goes deep into the lives of artists in a very beautiful yet honest way. The story is about an artist and his wife who take other younger artists (those are the strays) under their wing where they live in their house as a one big family. The couple have three daughters and their friend Lilly is the one who tells us the whole story which is set in the 1930s. Lots of things happen t
Lisa Jewell
May 10, 2015 rated it liked it
I was a bit disappointed. It was meant to be set in the late 1930s yet it felt very 1970s. The main friendship between Eva and Lily was reminiscent of Debbie and Sue's (Puberty Blues). I think there was lack of research done on the period...I doubt that Maria and Ugo had a telephone in their workers cottage (St Kilda) in 1939 (just one example). I guess that's nit picking but it really did stand out. The analysis at the end of the book by Lily, particularly about Helena was very interesting, and ...more
Susan Liston
This had a lot of promise at the start. It nicely evoked the setting of a ramshackle artist's colony in 1930's Australia. But several of the characters are never fleshed out at all and the ones that are were mostly annoying. (An attempt is made at the end to psychoanalyze these people but since they were A) fictional and B) as I said, annoying, I didn't care.) Also, I think, and this is just my opinion, but sometimes its nice when something actually HAPPENS in a story. There was practically no p ...more
Jul 11, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 Stars.

I liked this one. I found it a bit slow at the beginning, it did take until the middle of the book to actually hold my attention and call me back for more but, I am glad I stuck with it. I grew to really love the childhood relationship between Eva & Lily, it was nostalgic in a way with what I shared with my close friends at that age. It was really an interesting and beautifully written story.
Jan 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
The Strays is for everyone interested in reading about art homes and the influence of the artist parents's bohemian lifestyle on their children's lives and struggles. This is also a book for those interested in the portrayal of female friendships/bonds in fiction and anyone looking for a lovely retrospective novel. I enjoyed reading this. ...more
Sep 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars really enjoyed this one.
Margaret Galbraith
May 23, 2022 rated it really liked it
I did enjoy this book as it’s so well written and I feel well deserved in winning The Stella prize in 2015. It’s based in the 1930s but I could not help but feel it was more related to the 70s! Artists are a completely different breed and I’ve known and still do know a few. They stick together and are rather bohemian just as the story conveys. The characters are so believable but very sad and lonely despite being around others. A rather sad story but I still enjoyed it and reminded me of many fr ...more
Lolly K Dandeneau
Jan 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
via my blog
“It is strange which events leave those deep scars we carry with us over a lifetime. When Heloise talked about that night, even years later, it was with a bitter seriousness, a complete inability to see the events other than as they occurred to her seven-year-old self. It became a foundation myth, a lasting symbol of the troubled nature of Heloise’s childhood, the real sufferings she endured, but also the way she experienced these sufferings, reliving them over and over until they wo
The Strays describes a lifestyle with which I am not familiar and would certainly not be comfortable being a part of. Unlike me, the narrator in the story, Lily, was keen to be involved in the family life of the Trenthams. Head of the family was artist Evan Trentham, and his occupation may go some way to explaining the unconventional household where social mores were discarded or redefined. From the little reading I have done in this area, it appears to bear some striking similarities to the art ...more
Jun 19, 2020 rated it liked it
I liked this book, but didn’t love it. The strongest section was when Lily was spending a lot of time/living with the Trenthams: I enjoyed being brought into this world through Lily’s observations of the social dynamics and ideologies between the adults, and I have a real soft spot for houses playing a big role in books. There are some moments of gorgeous writing here, but the latter third of The Strays started to lose me. I don’t think that we needed to hear about how the girls fared as adults, ...more
May 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
An interesting story this, I didn't feel like I was reading anything particularly new or exciting but it was certainly well-written and full of interesting characters. At times I found the narrator annoying, however on reflection I think that this is because I can see a lot of myself as a young girl in her behavior. I also expected more from the major event upon which the story turns, it just felt a little flat to me. But I did like the focus on the artistic process and the honesty and fakery re ...more
2.7...? But I can't give it a solid 3. A lot of promise by clearly a good writer but I kept wishing for a more involved and judicious editor, a lot more character and relationship development and a lot less self-indulgent throwaway moments. It doesn't reach the storytelling heights it aims for and could have attained. ...more
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Stella Project: April 2020 - The Strays 4 21 Apr 16, 2020 02:20AM  
Melbourne Library...: Melbourne Book Club - August 1 19 Sep 04, 2015 12:41AM  

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Emily Bitto is the author of Stella Prize winning novel The Strays (Affirm Press, and forthcoming from Twelve, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, US). She has a Masters in literary studies and a PhD in creative writing from the University of Melbourne. Her writing has appeared in various publications, including The Sydney Morning Herald, Meanjin, Heat, the Australian Literary Review and The Big Is ...more

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