Review: Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

12th November 2013

pg1*This book was sent to me by the publisher Little, Brown in exchange for an honest review.

A woman wakes in a French battlefield hospital with no recollection of who she is, where she is, or how she may have gotten there. But she does remember how to assist the doctors and how to drive an ambulance, a difficult skill. From all accounts, she’s American, though it’s only 1916, and American hasn’t yet entered the war. On leave, she attempts to make her way to the Admiralty in London. She isn’t sure why she needs to go there, but the place holds significance for her, and she’s hopeful someone can identify her there.

But on the way, she takes ill, and Dr. August Bridge and his wife take her in. Dr. Bridge is a cranial surgeon, unfit for war because of scoliosis and bad eyesight, and he begins working with Stella in an attempt to regain her memory, as there are moments of clarity for Stella in which she only feels emotion. She sketches disturbing images she sees but cannot determine whether they are true or a figment of her imagination. But the story turns in an instant when Stella remembers her old life.


So, you should know that when I was in college, I devoured Anita Shreve books. In my estimation, they are similar to what the Jodi Picoult books are now. Pretty covers. Intriguing stories, but with a depth I usually enjoy more than some other women’s fiction.

Stella Bain was initially enthralling. Watching as she struggles to place herself and recall her reason for being in France is fascinating. I felt as though much of the book would be spent with her and Dr. Bridge working to restore her memory. However, when her amnesia disappears – rather quickly in the scope of the novel – the story becomes something different altogether. Stella begins to tell what brought her from America to the battlefields of France, another different but intriguing narrative. Yet after the reader understands what has brought her to war and what caused her amnesia, the novel begins to wane.

Still a good read, Stella Bain suffers from what many novels in the past several years have – a promising introduction but a less-than-stellar fulfillment of its early potential.

Recommended for fans of Anita Shreve and those interested in World War I.

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  • Didi B.

    So many people have suggested that I read Anita Shreve, but I haven’t been motivated enough to figure out what to pick up. What would you suggest for a newbie like me to her books?

    • Hm. It’s been a long while, but back in the day, I loved The Pilot’s Wife. It was my favorite. But honestly, I cannot even recall what it was about or why I liked it so much. But I’d say start there. I’ll look and see if I can find any others.

    • The Weight of Water! I remember that one being pretty good, too.

  • Katie

    I used to love Anita Shreve…The Pilot’s Wife and The Last Time We Met were pretty good. Thanks for the review, I’ll have to keep an eye out for Stella!

    • They really were. I actually still own a couple of her books. It’s been so long, I can barely recall anything about them!

      • Katie

        Same! Maybe it’s time to pick them up again!

  • Charlie

    I think I’ve heard of her but not seen any of her books about. I love the plot, but my thought was in line with what you said – once the mystery’s solved would it be able to keep the narrative going…

    • Exactly. It almost feels like a couple of different books. But I did really enjoy the first part.

  • Kate

    Good to know. I find Shreve a bit hit and miss – might give this one a miss.

    • Yeah, and it’s disappointing because the first part is really so good.

  • Susan Jackson Bybee

    I didn’t like one of her books, but this one sounds pretty good.