Goodreads description (x):
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. In a narrative that takes us from London to America and back again, Shreve has created an engrossing and wrenching tale about love and the meaning of memory, set against the haunting backdrop of a war that destroyed an entire generation.
My rating: 4 out of 5 hoots
I have a huge interest in reading books about war. I picked this book up before I even read the synopsis, so it was really just luck that it happened to revolve around World War I. In college, I took both a history class on The Great War and a literature class where we read books acknowledging The Great War, so this is definitely a book I would have chosen eventually.
Our main character, Stella Bain--who tells us the story through her eyes--is a strong female character who I was in awe of and identified with. She's likeable right away, and is a well-developed character. When it's aware that she has shell shock (now usually known as PTSD), I was also intrigued because Anita Shreve did a good job of both detailing what exactly shell shock is, how numbing it can be in all counts, and how it can also affect women. I'm sure in Stella Bain's time (early 1900's) they simply brushed her symptoms off as hysteria because she was a woman. It made me think of today and how many women suffering from chronic illnesses are misdiagnosed or not even diagnosed at all because doctors state everything is just "all in their head." Yep, the hysteria still continues.
The book was so well-written. I had never before read an Anita Shreve book, but from some of the Goodreads reviews, it seems like her other books are wonderful as well. Stella Bain was full of amusing words, a vast array of pensive quotes, and humor in time of a world of sadness.
The foremost reason I did not rate this book even higher was due to the last half--especially the quick ending which kind of jumps suddenly out at you. I was not impressed with the speed nor the ending itself.
Right before the sudden ending was a drawn out court case in which Stella Bain tries to gain custody of one of her children. I did think this was a bit interesting and that it was handled differently than usual, but also that it was given too much detail to. It probably could've been dropped. I mean, did I enjoy some of the parts? Yes, but did I think it really added to the story? Not so much. It really was just a long precursor added in as an excuse for Stella to go back to London where the story then ends (I'm not giving everything away).
For whatever reason, after Stella regains herself, the book just wasn't as interesting. It's like Stella found life and the book itself closed off its own chapters of life. Does that make sense? It became a little boring, then, and it's not necessarily because she was a different person and all that, it was just because the book changed. Like I said, it has a lot to do with the court case, especially.
I would recommend this book, still.
If you like books regarding war, bits of psychology or medicine, romance, and books that make you angry at the end (just kidding!)... Give it a try.