The Lives of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

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The Lives of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Rachael Spencer
Reviewed by Rachael Spencer
Summary: A woman from the US wakes up in a field hospital in France during the first world war, she has no memory of getting there. She has no memory at all, in fact... It's always good to see a new take on fiction written about World War One, and I found this a good addition to the genre.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: September 2014
Publisher: Abacus
ISBN: 9780349123578

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I’ve always been a sucker for war related fiction, I think it’s a very important subject which needs to be remembered by everyone, and fiction is a wonderful way to do that, to make it about the people and the places instead of just the statistics we are taught in school.

The opening of this book is a brilliant one, being thrust into the midst of Stella’s confusion as she wakes with no memory in a first aid station near the front line. She knows nothing other than the fact that she can drive an ambulance, and the reader knows nothing more than her. She soon discovers that she can draw, too, and this is a really nice angle to help learn about her and her past without having to unveil everything all at once. I think the use of present tense within this novel works incredibly well in order to keep the reader at the same speed as the character, and it’s also a writing style I enjoy as a whole because it’s a little bit unusual and brings a different pace to the text.

I got a little frustrated as the book went on, because I cared more about the backdrop of the war than her love life, but it could well be argued that this is my problem, not the author’s. It is always good to see material like this written from different approaches; as Birdsong by Faulks was about the men digging tunnels, something which hadn’t been so much in popular culture before, it is interesting to read about this woman trying to find herself amidst the vastness of world warfare.

I thought there were times when the style felt a little choppy and clinical, but this was overthrown on the whole by an ability to suck the reader in (as mentioned before, the present tense really helps the book in this way) and an excellent overall premise. In ways this choppy style adds to the feel of detachment that I think probably came with simply trying to survive. This is backed up by the dialogue, which is strong, and feels right for the era, with the undertones of the horror of war singing quietly in the background all the way through.

On the whole, a book which I found incredibly readable and evocative, I think Stella Bain is a fine addition to Shreve’s collection, though I think if you are looking for a book about the first world war, what you will find here is a book about somebody’s life continuing throughout the war. A subtle difference, but a difference worth noting. Never the less, not a disappointment and well worth picking up, as stated on the front cover, if you like Downton Abbey or Atonement then this really will be just up your street.

If it's something a little more in depth and hard hitting that you're looking for, then I think Regeneration by Pat Barker is a really important book within the genre and more than worth a read.

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Buy The Lives of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Lives of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve at


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