Review: The Strays by Emily Bitto

My Rating: 2 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

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 family and longs to truly be a part of it.

Looking back on those years later in life, Lily realises that this utopian 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 an engrossing story of ambition, sacrifice and compromised loyalties from an exciting new talent.

My Thoughts:

This was a challenging review to write and so this is going to be a brief one. I thought this book was disappointing at times, mainly because I wish Bitto expanded more. At only 240 pages, The Strays leaves the reader frequently wondering what happened. Many moments were referred to only in passing, rather than letting the reader be a full participant.

Most of this story takes place at an artist colony and the adults are…horrible. The parents do no real parenting, which was very annoying. I dislike the stereotype of artists being incompetent, lazy, and drunk and/or high. It was difficult to understand Lily or Eva’s fascination with these adults as they offered very little for these girls. Then when some extremely inappropriate and illegal relationships occur, nothing really happens. Eva’s parents fail miserably to take care of their daughters and the reader is left not knowing what really transpired. Later still, something disastrous happens again to Eva but just what, exactly, is not at all clear to the reader.

I think a lot of positive reviews focus on the relationship between Lily and Eva, but personally I didn’t see what all the fuss is about. I thought their interactions seemed more mature than was appropriate for their ages and all they ever seemed to do was change their clothes a lot, sneak out of Eva’s family’s house, smoke, and drink. They didn’t share their deep dark secrets. They barely spoke to each other, really. I think my frustration with their friendship was that it didn’t feel real to me. It felt like an author trying to be profound instead of writing truth. None of these girls reminded me of myself or anyone I know, which distanced me from the story.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I thought this book was fine. I’ve been struggling with how best to word my thoughts. It’s been a while since I’ve felt so… ‘whelmed’ by a book. It’s not great and it’s not horrible. I would only recommend this if you really enjoy quiet coming of age stories, and even then, just borrow it from the library.

This book is…

quiet

dark

mediocre

loving

blissfully short

Publisher: Twelve

Genre: literary fiction

Page Count: 240

ISBN: 1455537721

Available here from Book Depository.

Have you read The Strays? What book did you read this weekend?

I am an affiliate with Book Depository and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

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