The Strays (Emily Bitto, Affirm Press)
Following Emily Bitto’s shortlisting for the 2013 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, The Strays became one of the most highly anticipated debuts of 2014—and it certainly lives up to the hype. It tells the story of Lily, a young girl wooed by a progressive group of artists living in 1930s Melbourne, in what was then a very conservative city. Together, their days are spent making and debating art, their nights a blur of parties and dangerous liaisons. It is only when Lily looks back as an adult that she can acknowledge the childish antics that tore apart their idyllic existence, and better understand the complex artists who changed her life irrevocably. You could lift out any sentence in The Strays and admire the sheer artistry of its melody and composition. What’s especially wonderful about Bitto’s literary novel is that the story never feels weighed down by the style. It’s an immensely pleasurable read that covers a wide canvas: art history, modernism, a young girl’s coming of age. It’s clear that Bitto is a hugely talented writer and destined for a promising career.
Emily Laidlaw is the online editor at Kill Your Darlings