Source: Library copy
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.
This book pulled me in two opposite directions. On the one hand, I am just like the young Lily who was fascinated and absolutely loved the freedom in the Trentham’s family home. But on the other hand, as a young parent, I was absolutely horrified by the way the children’s needs were ignored. Of course, these children, whilst appreciating their freedom, also resented their parents for not being parents.
The novel opens with the adult Lily, with a grown child of her own, living a ‘normal’ boring life. She received a letter from her best friend whom she has not been in contact for a very long time. We didn’t find out exactly the reason why until near the end but this reason blew me away. I expected a tragedy in the shape of a death, an accident, or something just as devastating but a ‘that’s life’ kind of reaction from me BUT the reason repulsed me. I can’t say anything more without spoiling the ending so suffice to say, I was bowled over and I love it.
Years later, the consequences of the Trenthams’ lifestyle (parenting) choice are still reverberating in their lives. The author, via the oldest child (Bea), also acknowledged in a ‘you reap what you sow’ kind of way. The Strays was very easy to get lost in; Lily’s reminiscence and regrets were clearly felt throughout the story. I loved immersing myself in 1930s Melbourne though I did get quite worked up at the end so I can only afford a 4-stars rating.