The Strays by Emily Bitto

The StraysWho are the strays in Emily Bitto’s literary novel, The Strays (Affirm Press)?

The new Melbourne Modern Art Group tries to set up a bohemian utopia paralleling Sunday and John Reed’s Heide group, or Norman Lindsay’s enclave, on affluent Evan and Helena Trentham’s property during the Depression. Patrick is a stalwart and Ugo, Maria and Jerome are artists who seem to relish the opportunity to receive the patronage, protection and stimulation of famous Evan.

It may be the three Trentham daughters who are most affected by these living arrangements, although the temporary residents take some of the burden off the eldest daughter, Bea, in raising the younger girls. Painter, Evan, and miniaturist, Helena, are neglectfully preoccupied.

A fourth girl, Lily, meets middle daughter, Eva, when she moves to the local primary school. Lily is an only child and revels in the verdant exotica of Eva’s family, home and garden and, especially, of the art. Her own family seems dull and conventional beside the excesses of the Trentham lifestyle and Lily becomes a surrogate daughter, perhaps displacing youngest girl, Heloise. Lily’s relationship with Eva is close, in that first chaste trial marriage between girls. They are bound by bonds of imagination and, in Lily’s case, of some envy. As an observer of this sought-after life, Lily possibly becomes benignly manipulative.Shelley

Artist prodigy, Jerome, loves the work of poet Percy Shelley, husband of Frankenstein author, Mary Shelley, and is creating a series of art inspired by Shelley’s work. Like Jerome’s artist community, the Shelleys were part of an intimate circle that included Lord Byron, and Bitto casts allusive ties between these two groups. Jerome shares the poems with Lily but it is Eva who agrees to pose topless for him.Frankenstein

Descriptions of the garden and, particularly, the art are provocative. It is not surprising that politician Robert Menzies and the established arts community of the day viewed these avant-garde artists with suspicion. They were the antithesis of the adored late nineteenth century Heidelberg School of Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and Arthur Streeton.

Lily relates her story as a girl growing into a teenager but the narrative is encircled by an account of her life as an older woman. Her reluctance to accept an ordinary life remains.

The Strays was shortlisted for the Victorian Premiers Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript and is recommended for fans of Siri Hustvedt’s exceptional The Blazing World (Septre) and Alex Miller’s, Autumn Laing (Allen & Unwin).Blazing World

 

 

Queensland Literary Awards 2012 shortlists announced

The shortlists for the Queensland Literary Awards for 2012 have been announced.  Here are the nominees!

Fiction book award

  • The Chemistry of Tears (Peter Carey, Penguin)
  • All That I Am (Anna Funder, Penguin)
  • Sarah Thornhill (Kate Grenville, Text)
  • Autumn Laing (Alex Miller, A&U)
  • Cold Light (Frank Moorhouse, Random House)

Science writer award

  • Seduced by Logic (Robyn Arianrhod, UQP)
  • Gone Viral (Frank Bowden, UNSW Press)
  • Sex, Genes & Rock ‘n’ Roll (Rob Brooks, UNSW Press)
  • Australia: The Time Traveller’s Guide (Richard Smith, ABC Books)

Nonfiction book award

  • The People Smuggler (Robin De Crespigny, Penguin)
  • Double Entry (Jane Gleeson-White, A&U)
  • Riding the Trains in Japan (Patrick Holland, Transit Lounge)
  • Worse Things Happen at Sea (William McInnes & Sarah Watt, Hachette)
  • Her Father’s Daughter (Alice Pung, Black Inc.)

Emerging Queensland author – manuscript award

  • Scratches on the Surface (Aaron Smibert)
  • Home Mechanics (Luke Thomas)
  • Island of the Unexpected (Catherine Titasey)
  • Hidden Objects (Ariella Van Luyn)

David Unaipon Award for an unpublished Indigenous writer

  • Story (Siv Parker)
  • Hard (Ellen van Neerven-Currie)
  • My Journey that May Never End (Dorothy Williams-Kemp)

The Harry Williams Award for a literary or media work advancing public debate

  • Too Much Luck: The Mining Boom and Australia’s Future (Paul Cleary, Black Inc.)
  • The Australian Moment: How We Were Made for These Times(George Megalogenis, Penguin)
  • There Goes the Neighbourhood (Michael Weley, UNSW Press)

Judith Wright Calanthe Award – poetry collection

  • The Welfare of My Enemy (Anthony Lawrence, Puncher & Wattman)
  • Outside (David McCooey, Salt Publishing)
  • Late Night Shopping (Rhyll McMaster, Brandl & Schlesinger)
  • Crimson Crop (Peter Rose, UWA Publishing)
  • The Yellow Gum’s Conversion (Simon West, Puncher & Wattman)

History book award

  • Seduced by Logic (Robyn Arianrhod, UQP)
  • 1835: The Founding of Melbourne and the Conquest of Australia(James Boyce, Black Inc.)
  • The Biggest Estate on Earth (Bill Gammage, A&U)
  • The Censor’s Library (Nicole Moore, UQP)

Children’s book award

  • The Horses Didn’t Come Home (Pamela Rushby, HarperCollins)
  • Brotherband 1: The Outcasts (John Flanagan, Random House)
  • Look a Book! (Libby Gleeson & Freya Blackwood, Little Hare)
  • Ten Blue Wrens (Elizabeth Honey, A&U)
  • Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers (Briony Stewart, UQP)

Young adult book award

  • Night Beach (Kirsty Eagar, Penguin)
  • The Ink Bridge (Neil Grant, A&U)
  • Three Summers (Judith Clarke, A&U)
  • Sea Hearts (Margo Lanagan, A&U)
  • All I Ever Wanted (Vikki Wakefield, Text)

The Steele Rudd Award for an Australian short story collection

  • Silence (Rodney Hall, Murdoch Books)
  • Shooting the Fox (Marion Halligan, A&U)
  • In the Shade of the Shady Tree (John Kinsella, Swallow Press, Ohio University Press)
  • The Weight of a Human Heart (Ryan O’Neill, Black Inc.)
  • Forecast: Turbulence (Janette Turner Hospital, HarperCollins)

Television script award

  • The Straits: ‘Yawor – My Lovely’, episode 3 (Blake Ayshford, Matchbox Pictures)
  • The Slap: ‘Harry’, episode 3 (Brendan Cowell, Matchbox Pictures)
  • Strange Calls: ‘Phantom’, episode 3 (Anthony Mullins, Hoodlum Active)
  • Mabo (Sue Smith, Blackfella Films)
  • Dance Academy: ‘The Prix de Fonteyn’, episode 24 (Liz Doran, Werner Films)

Drama script (stage) award

  • War Crimes (Angela Betzien)
  • Bloodland (Wayne Blair)
  • Taxi (Patricia Cornelius)
  • Baby Teeth (Rita Kalnejais)
  • A Golem Story (Lally Katz)

Film script award

  • Dead Europe (Louise Fox, See-Saw Films)
  • Being Venice (Miro Bilbra, Dragon Net Films)
  • Rarer Monsters (Shane Armstrong & S P Krauss)
  • Save Your Legs (Brendan Cowell, Robyn Kershaw Productions).