Author: Anita Shreve
Shreve’s pinpoint access to her characters’ emotional acuity defines her gift in every novel.
Stella Bain proves no exception, as once again, Shreve compels her characters so deeply into the novel that they become real people to her readers.
It is March, 1916 and the setting is Marne, France. A woman wakes up to a nun looking down at her in a French army camp. Her feet hurt, and she cannot remember her name. She thinks that it is Stella. She lies on the cot and the nun tells her that she was wearing a British VAD uniform when she was dropped off in a cart. The nun tells Stella that she thinks Stella is American. Suddenly Stella states that she knows how to drive an ambulance. Suddenly Stella remembers her last name. It is Bain. Her name is Stella Bain.
It is wartime and a month later Stella ends up as a nurse’s aide with men dying all around her on cots. When she asks a nun for paper and pencil, Stella starts to sketch pictures that she does not recognize. She is then asked to drive the ambulance, for one of the drivers has been killed. Later, she is found in surgeon August Bridge’s London garden with shell shock and August and his wife makes her stay. August tries to help her remember by making her sketch and asking her what the sketches mean to her.
As Shreve weaves the tale of an American woman in wartime France, England and the United States, Stella Bain develops her memory slowly. When she sees Captain Samuel Asher in the Admiralty in London, she remembers everything. She finds that she has left her children and husband in America to live with Samuel Asher in London. Her vile husband Nicholas Van Tassel is the Dean of Thropp College in New Hampshire and her real name is Etna Van Tassel. Dean Van Tassel sent Asher’s brother, Phillip to the front because he felt Etna was in love with him, and Phillip’s face has been destroyed in the war.
As Etna goes to trial to regain the guardianship of her children, she faces her brutal husband once more, and the entire story culminates in an ending that is Shreve at her best.
As always, beautifully written, incorporating the new ideas of the time, and with a love story inside a love story, this is one of Shreve’s best novels, vibrant, all encompassing, and brilliant in defining one woman’s journey back to herself.
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Review by Broad “A” – Ava
We received a copy of this title for our book review. All opinions are our own
Stella Bain is available on Amazon.com and booksellers nationwide