By: Emily Bitto
Published by: Affirm Press
Published: May 2014
ISBN: 9781922213211


In 'The Strays', Evan Trentham is the wild child of the Melbourne art world of the 1930's. He and his captivating wife, Helena, attempt to carve out their own small niche, to escape the stifling conservatism they see around them, by gathering together other like-minded artists. They create a utopian circle within their family home, offering these young artists a place to live and work, and the mixed benefits of being associated with the infamous Evan.

At the periphery of this is circle is Lily Struthers, the best friend of Evan and Helena's daughter Eva. Lily is infatuated by the world she bears witness to, and longs to be part of this enthralling makeshift family.

As Lily observes years later, looking back on events that she still carries painfully within her, the story of this ground breaking 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 a modern classic work of fiction that transports the reader to the conservative 1930's, with a group of artists who establish a colony where they work together, cultivating their ideals and craft.

We see this through the eyes of the young Lily, who on the first day at school meets Eva, the middle daughter of the infamous avant-garde artist Evan Trentham. Lily becomes infatuated with their lifestyle and the growing number of people living in their artists' colony.

When the depression hits and Lily's father is injured in a workplace accident, she moves in with the Trentham family and her life is forever changed.

Without giving too much away, I must tell you that you will experience great tragedy and turmoil as Lily, now a grandmother, looks back over her early years and the many wasted years in between.

Emily Bitto is a superb new author who places us firmly in the 1930's art world and makes us feel as though we have truly experienced this first hand, with a brilliant storyline and flawless character development.

It is certainly best suited to your senior readers, but might I suggest some teachers would thoroughly enjoy it as well!

This book was included in our May 2014 Secondary Standing Order selection.

Reviewed by Rob