The Lives of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve weaves an intriguing story set around a backdrop of the First World War and beyond. Taking a reader from the field hospitals and war zones of France, and then moving them forward to England and over to the USA, readers follow along with the protagonist as she seeks answers as to who she is and why she has no memory of the past.
The simplicity Ms. Shreve brought to the story while telling Stella’s tale isn’t something I would normally find exactly up my alley as I usually prefer a more descriptive writing style to bring all my senses alive. In saying that, this was a beautifully crafted novel, which kept me wanting to turn the page to find out what was the driving force between Stella’s determination to discover why she was in this situation and her wondering where several shadowing faces dredged up from the past fitted into her life. She believes her only clue is at the Admiralty in London – a place she is drawn to over and over again.
I found the mystery woven throughout was thoroughly believable and all the minor characters perfectly spaced. They carried their individual roles in her life in a fascinating way, while Stella herself had both tragedy and mystery surrounding what brought her to the dilemma she finds herself in at the very beginning. Along the way, she discovers a few prominent people from her past have also had to face dramatic situations in varying ways. These created even more intrigue and poignancy as the story unfolded.
One particular character, Dr. Bridge, a psychologist who befriends Stella, encourages her to flesh out the pictures in her brain onto paper, hoping this will help her remember who she is and whatever it is she was fleeing. Even more layers of mystery are added when Stella starts to believe she was once a mother of two young children. Where are they now and why did she leave them in another country far across the sea?
The novel is written in the present tense, something I found quite unusual, but it added another interesting dimension while many short staccato sentences added extra punch. The opening chapter contains small telling vignettes about Stella’s constant blurred past and I found this to be the perfect hook to drag a reader further in.
I can easily and do willingly recommend this as a reflective read for those who aren’t looking for action-packed drama or edge-of-their-seat thrills to keep them interested – just perfect for a rainy day when you have a few hours up your sleeve.
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