I was excited to see a new novel by American novelist Anita Shreve. She's written more than fifteen novels and I think I've read them all. So, last week, I read The Lives of Stella Bain - mostly in the garden!
The novel is set in the aftermath of World War I, and Stella is a military nurse and driver who finds herself in London one evening, with no idea about how she got there, or what she is to do next. She throws herself at the mercy of an English couple, and they help her to investigate who she is and where she is from.
Once you get past the slightly unlikely extent of the help the English couple offer Stella, this novel is unusual and gripping. The Edwardian fascination with psychology clearly interests Shreve, as does the way the war affected the women involved. Like many of her books, The Lives of Stella Bain charts the journey of a lone woman in an unknown place. Shreve covers a lot of ground here in terms of Stella's past as well as her plans for the future. Like so many novels now, Shreve uses the present tense pretty much throughout, and somehow this suits Stella's character, as she can only really live in the present, knowing next to nothing of her past. This is a good read - interesting and unusual. It is a shame that this novel will probably be read by a predominantly female readership as it has male characters as well, and leaves readers with plenty to think about. However, if you've never read anything by Shreve, start with the superb novel, The Pilot's Wife!