Week 1: Stella Bain Read-a-Long

Welcome to the first week of the 2014 War Through the Generations With a Twist Read-a-Long of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve.  For this discussion, we read pgs. 1-70.

When an American woman, Stella Bain, is found suffering from severe shell shock in an exclusive garden in London, surgeon August Bridge and his wife selflessly agree to take her in.

A gesture of goodwill turns into something more as Bridge quickly develops a clinical interest in his houseguest. Stella had been working as a nurse’s aide near the front, but she can’t remember anything prior to four months earlier when she was found wounded on a French battlefield. (from GoodReads)

Serena:  What are your first impressions of the novel so far?

Anna: So far, I really like the book, but I’ve long been an Anita Shreve fan. I like that it’s more than just a book about the psychological impact of war, that there’s a bit of mystery, too, when it comes to Stella’s past. But what I really like is that Shreve focuses on the women who served and how they were scarred by the war. It’s easy to forget that they were in the thick of it, too.

Serena:I love Anita Shreve too, and this book so far has my attention. Stella has it rough waking up in a field hospital without any memory of her past and pulling a name out of thin air. I wonder if that’s even her real name or someone else’s. I like that she’s still concerned for the soldiers even in the midst of her own crisis, which shows her training transcends her current memory loss. It’s like something she’s been trained to know and hasn’t forgotten. I found that fascinating.

Dr. Bridge seems like an odd sort, like he’s interested in Stella, but I am hoping its merely in a professional way. What are your impressions of him?

Anna: On top of remembering her training, she also remembers how to draw. I find it interesting that the most pressing memories have to do with a garden, and connected to her training maybe, the Admiralty.

Dr. Bridge [just checked that it is Bridge, not Bridges, I couldn’t remember] does seem odd, especially how he takes on Stella’s care when it’s obviously outside his field of expertise. It makes me wonder whether there is some connection between the two that she doesn’t remember, especially since she ended up near his house in the first place. I have a feeling that their relationship will stray into unprofessional territory, and that makes me sad since Lily was so nice to her when she was ill. I’m sure there are connections there that haven’t yet unfolded.

Serena: I wonder about that too … his motivations seem to be professional curiosity, but at the same time, it is outside his medical expertise — and everyone else is way too busy with male soldiers and their issues. Seems a bit convenient for him, but she’s unlikely to question it since she can’t remember anything.

I am leaning toward them having a prior connection as well — perhaps they had a relationship before now — and he’s trying to see how much she remembers or if she’s there to ruin his marriage, etc. Ok, that’s a little soap opera-like.

Lily is so nice, and I wonder if that’s because she has not other outlet for her nurturing skills other than those soldiers. It is interesting that she was great athlete when she met her husband. I wonder how much that will play into it.

One thing that has been bothering me is that Stella seems to have been “on leave” for some time without any repercussions from the French military. Do they know where she is? Do they assume that she’s remembered where she came from and returned there? Or did they not have those mechanisms in place to track down “missing” staff?

Anna: I also wondered how she was able to be gone from her post in France for so long. But maybe they wouldn’t even be able to track her down, given that the nurse who first spoke to her said she was just left outside the tent by someone in a cart. (There has to be a story in that!!) I wonder if they don’t even know who she is.

As for a prior connection between Stella and Dr. Bridge, it might be soap opera-like, but that wouldn’t be too far off for a Shreve novel. I think her books are more about the twists and turns and shocking endings than whether such a connection is overly dramatic.

Serena: I think you’re probably right that the overly dramatic romance is typical of Shreve, but I love the twists and turns in her writing.

There is definitely a mystery in this one, pretty early on. The Admiralty is one fragment I cannot wait to see unfold.

Anna: We definitely have only scratched the surface of this novel, and I can’t wait to get back into it. I have so many questions; I want to know the meaning of the garden and the flowers she draws, why she can’t picture the house. I also want to know how she ended up in the hospital tent in the first place, and why she was just left outside like that. I, too, am curious about the Admiralty, and I’m worried about those dark and disturbing drawings of that man. I like Stella, but I’m being cautious about it because I have a feeling that I’ll soon question my opinion of her.

What do you think? Feel free to respond to our discussion and/or post any questions you might have in the comments.

Also stayed tuned for the second week’s discussion on Aug. 15, when we will discuss pgs. 71-138.

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2 Comments

  1. I can’t wait to sit down this weekend and read the next section!

  2. I have only read one book by Shreve, but you have convinced me this is worthwhile. Will have to get a copy.


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