Review Blog

Dec 05 2013

The lives of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

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Little, Brown, 2013. ISBN 9781408702970.
(Age: Senior secondary - adult) The lives of Stella Bain chronicles the life of a woman who wakes up in an army hospital in France, during World War 1, with no idea who she is, other than a sinister feeling that she may have a past to be ashamed of. What follows is first her quest to recover her memory, and then her attempt to put her life back together.
The novel takes the reader through wartime France, England and the United States and can, perhaps, offer a little insight into the history and early psychiatric practices of the time. Thematically it covers a lot of ground, encompassing issues such as war, memory loss, family and child custody, domestic abuse and a search for identity.
Structurally the novel can be hard to follow, but is an interesting example of different text forms within the one piece of work. There are no chapters, but sections are divided by years and locations, though these are not always chronological. Most of the novel is written in the present tense narrative form, though there are sections of recount narratives (also in present tense, like a dream sequence), letters, and also short, seemingly hurried paragraphs used to communicate a lot of information and the passing of time.
In my opinion, despite having created an interesting plot line, Anita Shreve's latest novel has left a lot to be desired. I found it hard to sympathise with the main female protagonist, finding her a bit one-dimensional and lacking in moral fibre. The novel seems to have been marketed in a somewhat Jason Bourne style, in which the reader expects that the protagonist's amnesia masks some kind of thrilling back story. In reality, the resolution of her identity comes fairly early in the novel, as a bit of an anti-climax, and the story that follows, while interesting enough, is not one that I found riveting.
This novel may be of interest to secondary students, though it seems to have been written for a more adult audience. It is a pleasant enough read, with some interesting themes, but not one that I'd be rushing to read again.
Sarah Rose

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