by Emily Bitto
Winner of Australia’s 2015 Stella Prize
For readers of Atonement, a hauntingly powerful story about the fierce friendship between three sisters and their friend as they grow up on the outskirts of their parents' wild and bohemian artistic lives.
On her first day at a new school, Lily befriends Eva and her sisters Beatrice and Heloise, daughters of the infamous avant-garde painter Evan Trentham. An only child from an unremarkable, working-class family, Lily has never experienced a household like the Trenthams'—a community of like-minded artists Evan and his wife have created, all living and working together to escape the stifling conservatism of 1930s Australia. And Lily has never met anyone like Eva, whose unabashed confidence and worldly knowledge immediately draw her in.
Infatuated by the creative chaos of the Trenthams and the artists who orbit them, Lily aches to fully belong in their world, craving something beyond her own ordinary life. She becomes a fixture in their home, where she and Eva spend their days lounging in the garden, filching cigarettes and wine, and skirting the fringes of the adults’ glamorous lives, who create scandalous art during the day and host lavish, debauched parties by night. But, as seductive as the artists’ utopian vision appears, behind it lies both darkness and dysfunction. The further the girls are pulled in, the greater the consequences.
With elegance and vibrancy, The Strays evokes the intense bonds of girlhood friendships, the volatile undercurrents of a damaged family, and the yearning felt by an outsider looking in.
"New York Times Book Review Editors’ choice
“Bitto’s scenes . . . are vividly written, almost painterly.”
—New York Times Book Review
"Full of lush, mesmerizing detail and keen insight into the easy intimacy between young girls which disappears with adulthood.”
—The New Yorker
"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.”
"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. Like Elena Ferrante in her Neapolitan novels, Bitto entices and enthralls, probing the pathos of the heart and the unpredictable volatility of friendships and family. But above all, it is the writing itself that delights the reader: vivid, tactile, perfectly wrought, this is prose that weaves a lasting spell.”
—Paul Kane, award-winning author of Welcome Light
"Both moving and sophisticated; well-researched and original; intellectually engaging and emotionally gripping...The Strays is like a gemstone...polished and multifaceted, reflecting illuminations back to the reader and holding rich colour in its depths.”
—2015 Stella Prize jury
"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, New York Times bestselling author of How to Make an American Quilt and Eight Girls Taking Pictures
"Reading this novel, I realized that this is the kind of book I love best: the young girl narrating a story she feels 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. Thank you to Emily Bitto!”
—Jane Hamilton, New York Times bestselling author of The Excellent Lombards