Monday, December 9, 2013

Book Review: Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

From the back of the book: 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.
When Stella Bain was found, she was severely shell-shocked, and had no memory, not even her name. But then, over the course of a few months, the memories start to come back to her, slowly. She remembers her name. Her identity. Her past. Solid pieces of truth in an ever-changing world. Aren't they? 
Written in the first person narrative style, the reader goes along for the ride with Stella, and discovers that a story they thought was about one thing or person...may really be about another entirely. Is Stella even....Stella, afterall?
This book was a bit difficult for me to review because the thing that I love most about Anita Shreve is her ability to craft characters. Usually, I could care less about the plot of her novels, I just want to curl up next to her characters and spend some time with them. In this way, Stella Bain was a bit less enjoyable than her previous books for me, as the book seemed to be much more plot-driven and the narrative style made it difficult for me to really connect with the characters. I understand the choice, as it makes the reader feel right in the thick of things with Stella as she makes discoveries and works through things, but I found myself not relating to Stella well, and not caring about her all that much either. Stella Bain dealt with four or five sub-plots that I thought were absolutely fascinating, but I found myself wishing that Shreve had focused on one or two of the subplots and spent more time with Stella (and later Etna).

All that said, Stella Bain wasn't a bad book at all--I devoured it in just a couple of hours. It just wasn't what I expected as a fan of Shreve, and unfortunately not in a good way. I love when authors take chances and do things differently, but in this case, I felt that Stella Bain simply traded the soul for the plot, and it just didn't feel like a fair trade, to me. 

Overall?  I'd say that it's worth a read if the description from the back of the book grabbed your attention (but maybe pretend it's by an author you've never read before if you're familiar with Shreve's work). 

 Disclosure Statement: I received a free advanced reader copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for my unbiased review. I'm sure you all know by now that I couldn't possibly lie about a book even if I wanted to :)

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