"Disturbing and magical....with a grace and eloquence." - NPR Books
"Full of lush, mesmerizing detail and keen insight into the easy intimacy between young girls which disappears with adulthood." -- The New Yorker
"The Strays is a knowing novel, and beautifully done." -- Meg Wolitzer, New York Times bestselling author of The Interestings
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 1930's 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. And the further the girls are pulled in, the greater the consequences become.
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.
The lyrical first novel by Australian Bitto observes the life of a bohemian household in 1930s Melbourne from the point of view of one of the "strays" the artistic Trenthams take in. Narrator Lily, an only child, is eight when she meets Eva, who will be her best friend for years. Bored with her conventional parents, whose idea of a good time is a jigsaw puzzle and a cup of cocoa, she begins to spend weekends with Eva, who lives with her controversial painter father; Eva's mother, whose inherited wealth supports the household; Eva's mature older sister, Bea; and her troubled younger sister, Heloise. As the years go by, other artists and their partners join the household. Eva's father's status is threatened by a young artist whose works sell better than his, and the parents' neglect of the children leads to a horrific outcome. Lily, in 1985 a professor of art history, is a thoughtful and articulate observer, aware of her own emotional investment in the family as well as of the many fractures within its seemingly structure. By placing her so firmly in a comfortable future, however, the core story loses much of its suspense, and too many of the novel's crucial events take place offstage, described rather than depicted.