Pages: 272 pages
Genres: Women's Lit
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Stella Bain by Anita Shreve is a historical novel that tells the story of Stella Bain, a young American woman serving as a volunteer in WWI France who wakes up in hospital one day with no memory of her identity or her past. It follows her struggle to discover who she is and then to reclaim her life.
What I liked
Engaging characters. I really enjoyed reading about the character of Stella and those who help and hinder her. She was well written and I felt absorbed in her story. The actions and reactions of the characters seemed authentic and consistent. I am not familiar with shellshock, but I can easily imagine its playing out as it did in Stella Bain.
Beautifully drawn setting. The setting changes from a WWI field hospital to post war London and America, and each of them was wonderfully detailed and described. Each was very different, but well written.
Nicely executed concept. Sometimes amnesia story lines can be very cheesy – think Teri Bauer in 24 – but it was well grounded and developed in Stella Bain. I’m not personally familiar with the psychology behind shellshock, but I felt the author had done her homework and it seemed believable and more realistic than other amnesia stories I’ve read.
What I didn’t like
The writing style. Stella Bain is written in the third person present tense (Stella does this, she sees so and so) which is not a common choice for an author. Writing in the present tense can give a sense of immediacy to a story, but it’s more often seen in the first person. Presumably, in Stella Bain this is meant to convey that only the present has any meaning for Stella given that she has no memory of her past and her future is uncertain. For me, however, it didn’t really work. I found myself becoming involved in the story in spite of this choice rather than because of it.
The love triangle. I wasn’t very happy with the way the love triangle played out. I disliked that the first seeds of the romance were sown while one of the parties was still married to a sympathetic woman he claimed to adore. While it may be realistic, I prefer that a kind and gentle character doesn’t have to be killed off so that the lovebirds can come together.
I wasn’t certain how many stars to give Stella Bain. It’s not quite four stars, but better than three and a half. So three and three quarters?
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