20 March 2014

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve, Book review

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (November 12, 2013)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316098861


An epic story, set against the backdrop of World War I, from bestselling author Anita Shreve.When an American woman, Stella Bain, is found suffering from severe shell shock in an exclusive garden in London, surgeon August Bridge and his wife selflessly agree to take her in.

A gesture of goodwill turns into something more as Bridge quickly develops a clinical interest in his houseguest. Stella had been working as a nurse's aide near the front, but she can't remember anything prior to four months earlier when she was found wounded on a French battlefield.

In a narrative that takes us from London to America and back again, Shreve has created an engrossing and wrenching tale about love and the meaning of memory, set against the haunting backdrop of a war that destroyed an entire generation.

My thoughts:

Anita Shreve needs little introduction being known as a prolific and versatile author. Her themes are consistently diffusing new aspects of deep rooted relationships often faced with unusual circumstances as in the case of Stella Bain.

The background of this latest novel is of WW1, the war that was thought to end all wars. The Huns are waging a terrible conflict in Europe, the casualties on both sides are enormous and the landscape is forever changed.

When a young American woman awakes in a casualty tent in France, she remembers nothing of her name or the circumstances that brought her near the front lines. 

Her VAD (British Nurse's Aide) uniform and her belief she knows how to drive an ambulance soon has her working alongside others in the most gruesome circumstances. There is little time to dwell on anything for them but survival during the heavy artillery shelling and bringing in the next batch of wounded to the already exhausted surgeons.

Months later, she goes AWOL and finds her way to London in search of answers. The only certainty now is a vague memory the Admiralty holds the answer to her identity.

Stella Bain highlights the effects of P.T.S.D. in a determined woman searching for clues to a poignant past, from the battlefield of the Marne in 1916 to London and on to America, her homeland.

Anita Shreve portrays her main character as a courageous, strong willed woman who strives to do the right thing despite the challenging times she lives into, when women had little or no rights. 

Additionally Stella Bain offers a rare insight on VAD's work on the front lines, the stress on combatants and non combatants and the discriminatory rules of society in regard to women last century.

At times laconic then circumlocutory, Anita Shreve's novel virtually allows the behaviour of each character in Stella Bain to reflect the deepest passions, human imperfections and hopes for the future. 

Part flashbacks, part epistolary, the plot line felt drawn out at times but in the end provided good entertainment!

4 Stars!

Meet the Author:

Image of Anita Shreve

From Amazon:

Anita Shreve grew up in Dedham, Massachusetts (just outside Boston), the eldest of three daughters. Early literary influences include having read Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton when she was a junior in high school (a short novel she still claims as one of her favorites) and everything Eugene O'Neill ever wrote while she was a senior (to which she attributes a somewhat dark streak in her own work). After graduating from Tufts University, she taught high school for a number of years in and around Boston. In the middle of her last year, she quit (something that, as a parent, she finds appalling now) to start writing. "I had this panicky sensation that it was now or never."

Joking that she could wallpaper her bathroom with rejections from magazines for her short stories ("I really could have," she says), she published her early work in literary journals. One of these stories, "Past the Island, Drifting," won an O. Henry prize. Despite this accolade, she quickly learned that one couldn't make a living writing short fiction. Switching to journalism, Shreve traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, where she lived for three years, working as a journalist for an African magazine. One of her novels, The Last Time They Met, contains bits and pieces from her time in Africa.

Returning to the United States, Shreve was a writer and editor for a number of magazines in New York. Later, when she began her family, she turned to freelancing, publishing in the New York Times Magazine, New York magazine and dozens of others. In 1989, she published her first novel, Eden Close. Since then she has written 14 other novels, among them The Weight of Water, The Pilot's Wife, The Last Time They Met, A Wedding in December, Body Surfing, Testimony,and A Change in Altitude.

Visit her website (HERE)

Note to Readers: This was a library loan, no review was requested and all opinions mine only!


  1. Anita Shreve is one of my favourite contemporary authors Noelle, so I'm excited to be introduced to this book.
    Thank you for sharing your review, I shall look out for this.
    Have a great weekend Noelle!
    Gill xx

    1. Anita has a little something for everyone does she not Gill?!
      I am looking for other titles but my favourite so far is 'Resistance'.

  2. I'll be co-hosting a readalong of this book over the summer, so I hope you'll join in the discussion. I'm a big Shreve fan, so I can't wait to read this one. I've read about women on the front lines in WWI, but never one that dealt with PTSD, so I'm very curious.


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