Monday, February 17, 2014

Stella Bain - Anita Shreve

Stella Bain is the first book that I've read by prize-winning author Anita Shreve,but the reviews I read of it on other blogs convinced me that I should give it a try.  

The book begins with the protagonist waking up in a French army hospital during WWI.  She is suffering from amnesia and had been found unconscious and was brought to the hospital.  She was wearing a British nurse's uniform, but when she speaks it is with an American accent.  The rest of the book recounts how she regains her memory, how she lost it in the first place, and how intricately connected are memory and identity, guilt and duty, love and responsibility. 

I found the story of Stella Bain to be incredibly interesting and the novel's narrative to be engaging and poignant.  Shreve doesn't tell her story in a linear fashion, and the reader uncovers Stella's past in the same way she does--in fits and starts. I also liked the mostly present tense that Shreve uses--I don't know if this is usual with her, but it is a style that is growing in popularity and I think gives an immediacy to the story that works well.

I found the WWI aspects of the story to be really interesting as well--the war from the medical personnel perspective, from the volunteer's perspective, from a wounded woman's perspective. Stella is wounded by both the war and the stifling world of the early 20th century and the laws that still kept women in strait-jackets, and yet it demostrates the tremendous changes in the world and society--from the growing field of psychoanalysis to the loosening of laws related to divorce and child custody.  I loved how the discovery of the protagonist's artistic skills and her drive to be a good parent allowed her to reclaim her self and then let the self soar.

This was a beautifully written book with a main character I felt was very real but whose story was extraordinary. Like many other readers this year, I am making a concerted effort to read about WWI and this was a great novel to start with.

This book is another for the Historical Fiction reading challenge!


  1. I haven't read Anita Shreve for a while, but this one sounds really intriguing. I'll put it on my TBR list! WWI seems to be getting a lot of play lately--just read SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE, by Jennifer Robson, which I really enjoyed.

  2. Amnesia stories can be so very interesting. That is as long as they do not fall into cliches.

    We do not often hear of stories of Women who were wounded in WW I. Thus this one seems very original.

  3. I've enjoyed several of Shreve's earlier novels and the premise of this one intrigues me. I'm also trying to read some WWI-themed books this year, so will add this to my wish list!

  4. I'm a big Shreve fan, so I can't wait to finally read this one. Glad to see you enjoyed it.