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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

Review: The Strays

The Strays - Emily Bitto

This is why I hate getting behind on reviews. On one hand, a little time to reflect on a book is great for processing. On the other, too much time is simply too much. It's been more than six weeks since I finished Emily Bitto's The Strays, and now I'm struggling to remember what I liked and didn't like. I guess what remains in my mind is what was most impactful, whether if provides a full assessment or not. So what do I remember...

I remember that I loved the atmosphere. There was a quaint tension underlying the entire story. It was a place where I as a reader wanted to physically go to, and yet I couldn't wait to leave. Something was wrong, yet I couldn't help but enjoy the stay. It reminded me of Ian McEwan's Atonement. In the first part of McEwan's novel, there is a celestial quality to the Tallis house and the grounds surrounding it that reminded me of innocence; yet underneath it all was this horrible feeling of dread. It was an intriguing place to find oneself. That same feeling populates The Strays in its entirety.

I remember that I didn't quite understand the relationship Lily had with her family. Did they really care so little that they would let their only child live completely apart from them? Was she so bored with her family that she so easily forgot about them? It was actually jarring when Lily's parents made an appearance: oh yes, she has a family, I almost forgot.

I remember anticipating the ending with great zeal. It was obvious that The Strays was building up to something big. The ominous present-day reflections, the increasing tension underlying the slowly building story, these contributed to several nights of going to bed long after my bedtime. This is a wonderful quality to have in a novel, but it can lead to a bit letdown. And despite the enjoyment I had reading The Strays, I did feel that the “big reveal” was anything but big. I remember the letdown, but I also remember the wonderful ride getting to the top.

That, for what it is worth, is what I remember about The Strays.