ARC Book Review: The Strays by Emily Bitto
ashley | There’s something I find so mesmerizing and fascinating about the bohemian artist’s life and that magic is brought to life in The Strays by Emily Bitto. I felt so swept up in this book, I may as well have moved across the world to be taken in by the fantastical Trenthams.
Told from split points in the 1930’s and 1980’s, Lily recounts her childhood adventure as the close friend of Eva Trentham and her time on the sidelines of their bohemian home come artist’s commune and what that means for her and the three young daughters who blossom without any real adult supervision or guidelines.
Lily was rather unglamourous except as our narrator, but this subtly gave the reader the opportunity to slip into her shoes and feel almost as if they, themselves, were recounting their own childhood. But Lily didn’t have to shine, she was surrounded by enough eccentric characters to carry this story. Eva was that kind of confident free spirit you can’t help but be drawn to, Bea seemed like the only responsible one in the entire family, parents included. Heloise was certainly colourful in a very odd way. And then the remaining artists who inhabited the home to make up the circle all had their own interesting attributes.
As a debut, I quite liked the story and Bitto’s writing. But ultimately, it didn’t wow me. I enjoyed it, it was a nice read, but although it likely was for the time period, it wasn’t necessarily shocking or unexpected. It was also influenced by certain facts and the existence of similar people in similar situations, which I didn’t know going in and was kind of disappointed to find out.
In a way, this reminded me a bit of The Virgin Suicides, not necessarily for the content, but for the dreamy feel and the way these four naive girls were trying to come into their own while living in their own destructive dreamworld, a dreamworld that was basically constructed by their artist parents.
I’d be very curious to read more of Bitto’s work, to see what other worlds she can build perhaps outside the inspiration she took from this particular art world. But she is off to a strong start and I was certainly smitten with this anything but normal family and their commune of strays.
january 3, 2017