Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Review: Stella Bain

Summary: Stella Bain has no memory of her past when she wakes up in a hospital bed in Marne, France. It is 1916, and she wears the uniform of a British war nurse but speaks with an American accent. As soon as she is able, Stella sets out for London, where she hopes to find answers. What she discovers-with the help of Dr. August Bridge, who takes an interest in her case-both shocks and startles. As Stella's memories come racing back, she must undertake a journey across the ocean to confront the haunted past of the woman she used to be.

In this gripping historical drama that transports us from Europe to America and back again, Anita Shreve weaves an engrossing tale about love and memory, set against the backdrop of a war that devastated an entire generation. -- Little Brown

When I learned that Anita Shreve had a new novel out called STELLA BAIN, I immediately added it to my must-read list. I have read many of Ms. Shreve's novels (including a few for my book club), and I've always appreciated not only her writing style but her ability to create thought-provoking characters. Needless to say, I had high expectations for STELLA BAIN.

STELLA BAIN tells the story of a World War I nurse who awakens after an accident and has no memory of her past. She is dressed as a British war nurse; however, she speaks with an American accent. Once Stella recovers, she heads to London for some answers, and there she meets Dr. August Bridge, a doctor who wants to help her learn about her past. Stella's memories begin coming back to her in bits and pieces, and she is amazed by her complex past.

As I try to gather my thoughts about STELLA BAIN, I realize that I could have used this review as part of my Mystery Mondays post. However, I'm not entirely sure that I'd classify it a traditional mystery. While there are definitely elements of a mystery surrounding Stella's past, I think this novel was more of character driven story -- one that focused on Stella's self discovery. (Or, should I say her rediscovery?) As a result, I decided to not treat this book as a "mystery."

Had it been more of a mystery, it might have worked better for me. If I'm being entirely honest, I had mixed feelings about STELLA BAIN. On one hand, I did enjoy Ms. Shreve's writing and character development as well as the historical elements of the story. But on the other hand, I wanted a bit more from this novel. I just felt as if I were waiting for something big to happen, and it never did. That's not saying that I can't appreciate a quiet, character driven novel. It just means that I didn't feel as involved in the story as I would have liked.

There were definitely some things I did like about STELLA BAIN though. First and foremost was the way Ms. Shreve decided to tell Stella's back story. Like Stella, the reader is initially very confused about her past; however, Ms. Shreve uses flashbacks of Stella's memory to clue the reader (and Stella) about her background. I liked how Stella's past gradually unfolded and it did keep me interested in the novel. You have to admit that it's quite a stretch for an American woman to end up a British nurse during a war.

Another aspect of STELLA BAIN that I found to be intriguing was how it delved into the history of World War I. I'm not sure that I ever realized just how huge this war was to England's past until I read the Maisie Dobbs books, and I appreciated that this novel continued educating me about the atrocities of this time period.  (You know how I love to get my history through fiction!) I thought Ms. Shreve did an outstanding job of writing about the war and making it very real for her readers.

And finally, I really liked the various themes that the book explored.  While the novel wasn't exactly "exciting" for me, I did appreciate the quiet nature of the story and even the eventual love story that took place. In addition to touching upon the effects of war, this novel also explored love, family, marriage, and memory. It was the theme of memory that I found the most fascinating and probably the topic that book clubs would most enjoy discussing.

Overall, I do think STELLA BAIN is worth reading despite my mixed feelings about it.  Recommended for fans of historical fiction and especially readers who enjoy the Maisie Dobbs books.

Thanks to Tandem Literary for providing a review copy of this novel.


Beth F said...

I've seen mixed reviews of this, so I don't think you're alone. I have it in audio and I do hope to listen to it, but after reading reviews (like yours), I've decided not to make it a priority.

bermudaonion said...

I've really enjoyed Shreve's books in the past so I'd like to give this one a try. I hope there's enough action in it for me.

Literary Feline said...

This is one I am looking forward to reading at some point. I know it's got mixed reviews, so I imagine I'll keep my expectations lower than I might otherwise. I just finished reading Somewhere in France and am in a World War I mood. I'm debating whether to start on this one or not.

Gayle Weiswasser said...

I have been putting this one off for some reason... I think your review confirmed why. :)

Karen White said...

I was a faithful reader of Shreve's for a long time, but then I OD'd at some point. I think I might try this one - I also like to explore history via fiction!

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

This is an author that I have loved in some of her books but not all. Yet I am always intrigued to see what she is writing next and the possibility of reading it.

Kim@Time2Read said...

I have this on my 'to read' list. I'm sorry it wasn't a total success for you. I'll still read it...eventually....just not as soon as I'd originally planned!

Anna said...

I got this book as Christmas gift, so I'm really looking forward to reading it. I had no idea there was a mystery element to it.