I rather ashamedly have to confess that I haven’t read an Anita Shreve book before so I’m grateful to the members of my U3A reading group for choosing The Lives of Stella Bain this month.
The Lives of Stella Bain is published by Abacus, part of the Little Brown Group, and is available for purchase here.
The Lives of Stella Bain
Hauled in a cart to a field hospital in northern France in March 1916, an American woman wakes from unconsciousness to the smell of gas gangrene, the sounds of men in pain, and an almost complete loss of memory: she knows only that she can drive an ambulance, she can draw, and her name is Stella Bain.
A stateless woman in a lawless country, Stella embarks on a journey to reconstruct her life. Suffering an agonising and inexplicable array of symptoms, she finds her way to London. There, Dr August Bridge, a cranial surgeon turned psychologist, is drawn to tracking her amnesia to its source. What brutality was she fleeing when she left the tranquil seclusion of a New England college campus to serve on the Front; for what crime did she need to atone – and whom did she leave behind?
Vivid, intense and gripping, packed with secrets and revelations, The Lives of Stella Bain is at once a ravishing love story and an intense psychological mystery.
My Review of The Lives of Stella Bain
I can’t believe that The Lives of Stella Bain is my first Anita Shreve book and I can’t wait to delve into more of her writing.
I thoroughly enjoyed the sense of mystery in the early part of the novel when Stella is trying to regain her identity. I found her initial reason for fleeing to France an interesting premise for the novel and although I didn’t find her actions, because of her feelings of guilt, entirely convincing, I found the event that precipitated her being in France very effective.
I’m always fascinated by the setting of the First World War but, whilst I am thoroughly aware of the devastating effects it had on young men, I am ashamed that I have never really thought too much about the effects on the women working there too. This was a compelling and thought provoking element to The Lives of Stella Bain and I enjoyed this first part of the novel particularly because I was educated as well as entertained as I read.
Usually preferring a novel with a linear time scale, I actually loved the structure of The Lives of Stella Bain and the uncovering of the mystery surrounding Stella. Anita Shreve has magnificent insight into the human psyche so that Stella, as she is initially known, is a compelling, human and believable woman. I thought all the characters were engaging and I enjoyed the way in which the novel ultimately resolves itself around them.
As well as being well written and entertaining with some wonderful descriptions that give a dramatic sense of place, I thought The Lives of Stella Bain had great depth too. Anita Shreve considers the place of women in marriage and society, the role of motherhood and who judges (literally in this case) what it means to be a woman and mother. She raises the questions of identity and self, and of love and hatred, so that I was made thankful for the life and love I have.
The Lives of Stella Bain may be my first Anita Shreve read but it most certainly won’t be my last. It’s a highly appealing story.
About Anita Shreve
Anita Shreve is the acclaimed author of seventeen novels, including Rescue, A Change in Altitude, Testimony, and The Pilot’s Wife, which was a selection of Oprah’s Book Club. Her latest book is The Stars Are Fire. Anita first began writing when working as a high school teacher. She lives in Massachusetts.