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Delicious descriptions: Emily Bitto’s The strays

November 7, 2015

In my recent post on Emily Bitto’s The strays I commented on the quality of the writing but didn’t really exemplify it – so I’m doing so now. But just sharing without in-depth commentary, as I’ve been tied up this week with family matters.

Here is a description of Evan Trentham, the leading artist in the Melbourne Modern Art Group:

Evan Trentham was put together from mismatched stuff. The sinews were too short for the long bones. The tendons behind his ankles and the bald stones of his knees stuck out, hard as catgut on a tennis racquet. He was like a rubber band stretched tight and close to snapping. He wore blue work pants cut off at the knee and a white undershirt that was yellow beneath the armpits. He was paint-stained and sweat-smelling.

A taut, highly strung artist?

And here is a description of the night of on of the Trenthams’ bohemian parties:

The night that followed was a slip down the rabbit hole. Summer was taking up its place like a chestnut seller setting up his stall, lighting the coals and letting the scented smoke drift down the street before he begins to call out to passers-by. It was not too hot by the fire in the centre of the garden clearing, nor too cold away from it in the darker, leafier peripheries.

Interesting imagery here given when chestnut season is, but I like the scene she is setting.

Then there’s her description of Helena Trentham’s three daughters:

I believe she envied her daughters their relationships with one another, just as I did. And so she brought three girls into the world and let them roam it without telling them to fill the pockets of their pinafores with bread and to leave a trail of crumbs that would lead them, in a crisis, home.

Love the allusion to Hansel and Gretel here.

And finally (though it appears some time before the above quote in the book), Lily describes that moment that comes in most girl friendships when puberty reaches one before the other:

She’s leaving me behind, I thought. I felt tricked. With Eva, I had given no thought to the world of adulthood that awaited us. But she had crossed some secret threshold while I was facing the other way, absorbed still by the childish fantasies she had cultivated for us: our talk of travelling the world together […] Now, I saw so clearly that all of that had been a silly game. She had a lover, presumably, while I did not even truly know what this vague and glamorous term entailed. She had become a woman, with no thought to warn me that I should be packing away my own childhood, dismantling it piece by piece like a rotten treehouse, and preparing myself for the new world.

I remember the feeling!

Overall, I thought Bitto’s writing was nicely evocative, without being overblown.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 8, 2015 10:38 am

    It is well written, though a really good mother might tell her daughters to leave a trail of something more substantial, or less edible, than bread crumbs.

  2. November 10, 2015 5:56 am

    All marvelous quotes. Thanks for sharing them!

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