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Stella Bain Hardcover – November 12, 2013
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From Publishers Weekly
Shreve's 17th novel is a tragic yet hopeful story of love, memory, loss, and rebuilding. A young woman wakes up with amnesia in a battlefield hospital tent in Marne, France, in 1916. She thinks her name is Stella Bain, and she thinks she knows how to nurse and drive an ambulance. As she recovers, she returns to duty in this new environment, caring for the wounded and dying. When she arrives in the city exhausted and destitute, she's discovered in a park by a doctor's wife, who takes her in. The doctor, Augustus Bridge, is a cranial surgeon with an interest in psychiatry. Stella becomes a €œquasi-patient€; he finds a way to get her into the Admiralty, and, when a former friend recognizes her by name, her memories return, including the fact that she has children—and the reason why she left them. The amnesia and its cause are only part of the story; the lack of understanding at the time of the consequences of witnessing the horrors of war, for both men and women, also plays a key role. The novel is both tender and harsh, and the only false note is the use of present tense, which prevents the reader from being pulled in more closely. Shreve's thoughtful, provocative, historical tale has modern resonance. Agent: Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, WME Entertainment. (Nov.)
"Touching, heartbreaking, sometimes so vivid you can almost feel the fear." ---Karen Campbell, Boston Globe
"Spare, elegant....Shreve's fans will appreciate her keen understanding of women's struggles to live life on their own terms." ---Helen Rogan, People
"A must-read." ---Steph Opitz, Marie Claire
"Astonishing....Brilliant and unexpected....Shreve is a versatile writer, depicting the brutality of battle just as compellingly as she does the early stages of love. She had me rooting for Stella's happiness the whole way through and left me completely satisfied at the end." ---Diane Colvard, Real Simple
"Vivid prose.... The true power of Stella Bain lies not in what is said, but in what is left unsaid. The silences are complex: silences within relationship and silences that come from misunderstanding the complicated mental and emotional consequences of war. And though the story is dark, its resolution is hopeful and nostalgic." ---Natalie Bakopoulos, San Francisco Chronicle
"An intriguing character study that delivers compelling mystery without melodrama. Shreve offers a fresh, feminine twist on a topic that's much in vogue lately-World War I.... Shreve cleverly and movingly shifts between Stella's two lives, as we learn who she really is. A custody battle, a horrible case of wartime disfigurement, and even questions of women's rights emerge in this spare but involving novel....Those who read Shreve's 2003 novel, All He Ever Wanted, will get an unexpected thrill when they put the pieces together." ---Jocelyn McClurg, USA Today
"Stella Bain Shreve returns to what she does best-describing the thoughts, actions, and feelings of an unconventional woman....As Shreve peels back the layers of memory and exposes the real woman in Stella, she creates a compulsively readable novel....In Stella Bain, Shreve's writing is spare and luminous, much like her protagonist. She can evoke an intense feeling in just a few words....The extensive dialogue and courtroom testimony move the story along swiftly, and in sections the book reads like a play. Although the story takes place in, variously, the late 19th Century and the first decades of the 20th Century, Shreve has woven in themes that readers in this century will have no trouble recognizing as worthy and current." ---Laura Eggertson, Toronto Star
"As always, master storyteller Anita Shreve spins a spell-binding web of a tale, guaranteed to snare her readers into turning pages until three in the morning." ---Terry Miller Shannon, Book Reporter
"Compelling....Shreve infuses Stella Bain with a warmth and intelligence that has been a hallmark of her 17 previous novels." ---Carol Iaciofano, NPR
"The gripping, touching tale of a shell-shocked American in post-WWI London." ---Good Housekeeping
"Shreve writes tightly plotted page-turners." ---Catherine Elsworth, Goodreads
"An exemplary addition to Shreve's already impressive oeuvre." ---Kirkus Reviews
"A tragic yet hopeful story of love, memory, loss, and rebuilding.... Shreve's thoughtful, provocative historical tale has modern resonance." ---Publishers Weekly
"Stella's journey of self-discovery allows us to encounter the horrors of the first World War, groundbreaking treatments in psychotherapy, early acknowledgments of domestic violence, and the glimmer of first-wave feminism....An improbably woman of mystery." ---Alice Short, Los Angeles Times
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Top Customer Reviews
Through the course of what is sometimes a bit of a disjointed narrative, Stella (Etna) moves steadily toward forgiveness of herself and others as well as to achieve her independence and seek the love she was denied. An interesting topic in the book was that of shell shock, seen in so many returning soldiers after the war.
I'd recommend this to any fan of Anita Shreve and to a book club group wanting a novel dealing with the human side of the effects of war in a time when women were not allowed much freedom in their personal lives.
Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for the e-book ARC to review.
The novel embraces strong topics such as post-traumatic stress syndrome, especially as it affected women at the time, the rights of women and societal expectations and norms, while delivering a poignant love story of pain and loss and healing.
Anita Shreve excels at drilling down deep into the human spirit, of unleashing great emotion, and all while telling a riveting story. This is very much a character driven novel, but it also has a touching mystery at its roots that definitely keeps the reader turning the pages. I highly recommend this novel for anyone wishing to cozy up to a deep, insightful story of ultimate triumph.
Though not as powerful as Peter Yeldham's Barbed Wire and Roses, I appreciated Shreve's exploration of shell shock and how she uses Stella to show both the impact it has on the individual and how it was viewed in a society with little to no understanding of the condition. Her presentation pulls at the heartstrings while offering a really nice portrait of the values of this particular era. Unfortunately, I don't think every aspect of this book was as well thought out.
I understand the decision to write this piece in the present tense. Stella is frustrated and confused at not being able to assemble the pieces of her own history and the reader get a very real sense of her dismay seeing the world as she herself does, accepting each moment without a greater sense or understanding of where her story began or where it is going. But that being said, I think this approach creates more empathy for her situation than her character and makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to truly understand the woman Stella is.
My other concern regards the custody battle. I think it is great material and that it showcases an interesting contrast when compared to our contemporary family court system, but I think this sequence strayed too far from the themes Shreve explores in the rest of her narrative. Again, great content, but it wasn't as fluid as the rest of the novel and sticks out as being something of an add-on to the greater story.
An emotionally driven fiction of life on the home front. A subtle narrative sure to be appreciated by those who enjoy less confrontational war stories.
What must it be like to not know where you came from, your heritage, your background?
This story is set around World war 1. So first, put yourself in that time zone.
Here is a woman in a hospital, no memory of her past or present, just now and again hazey sketches that she cannot piece together.
Its uncanny how she hits on the name Stella.
A psychologist helps her unravel who she is, but is she prepared for what she uncovers.
This is also a love story. Its a great novel from Anita Shreve and I would urge you to read this. Its very good.
I would like to thank ittle, Brown Book Group UK via Net Galley for allowing me my copy to read and review (