REVIEW: The Lives of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve (Review by Terry Purcell)

by |November 28, 2013

the-lives-of-stella-bainThis unusual mystery opens in a field hospital in Marne in early 1916 when a woman finds herself suffering from minor shrapnel injuries, shellshock and amnesia.  Her VAD uniform tells her that she must be a nurse’s aid but she knows little else about herself or her name.  She believes her name is Stella Bain, and learns that she is an American. Once her physical injuries are healed she goes back to work driving field ambulances along the front, retrieving the dead and wounded.

In October she is given leave and decides to go to London, because she thinks that by visiting the Admiraly that she might find the key to unlocking her identity. However, she is desperately ill when she arrives and in taken in by a kind woman whose husband is a cranial surgeon.

Through contacts the surgeon obtains permission to take her to the Admiralty and eventually this leads to her identity being revealed and her memory is restored and her reasons for being in France is revealed.anita shreve

Underpinning this novel is a narrative of a failed marriage which was told from the husband’s point of view in one of her earlier novels All He Ever Wanted.

In this latest novel Shreve vividly tells the story from the wife’s point of view revealing the far reaching consequences of the husband’s unethical and manipulative behaviour to achievall-he-ever-wantede the college Presidency he had sought for twenty years.

As was made clear during the earlier story, the husband reflected on what he had gained but also on his lost family and his failed search for redemption.

This time the ill-treated wife regains custody of her lost children, the satisfaction of apologising to the victim of the husband’s unethical and malicious allegations, and the love of the man whose support made such gains possible.

This is Anita Shreve at her best and I highly recommend both this her latest book and All He Ever Wanted. Excellent holiday reading.

Terry Purcell is a solicitor and was the founding director of the Law Foundation of NSW. He is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog.

Click here to pick up a copy of The Lives of Stella Bain today

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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  • H. Sullivan

    January 12, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    I notice that the story differs in the 2 novels..Etna dies while abroad in All he ever wanted, and returns to claim her children in Stella Bain. Why make the stories conflict?

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