The Lives of Stella Bain – Anita Shreve

We’ll be submerged in it. Just when we will think it’ll be safe to come up for air they’ll hit us with another fictional or factual offering on the unpleasant, inhumane events that happened one hundred years ago – as if we haven’t enough of those in our present-day. I’ve no doubt this’ll continue right up till the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 2018 – and possibly beyond. As far as this scribe is concerned, it was all done and dusted so long ago. And yes, the Aussies involved were heroic in proving their mettle in combat – but please, let us move on. As for it seeing our nation ‘coming of age’, that is just so much piffle. That occurred fourteen years previously. If you want a battle to mark it, look, as Paul Keating did, to Kokoda. He had it right. At least then we were defending home soil and not fighting somebody else’s war. For me, the ‘One Day of the Year’ is more than enough ‘celebration’. Tasmania’s late, esteemed governor certainly had the role of that right too.

So, for four long years, on our small screens and in the print media, we will be subjected to it. Most of it will be patriotic, possibly jingoistic mush – such as the ABC’s current ‘Anzac Girls’. I watched the first episode. It was indeed sudsy slush. Maybe some of the other offerings will be more worthy – but I think Peter Weir’s ‘Gallipoli’ says all that needs to be said and will never be bettered, so they’ll probably pass me by.

A print tale on the events is Anita Shreve’s ‘The Lives of Stella Bain’. I read Ms Shreve as a matter of course. She is a versatile and normally engrossing writer – if a tad uneven. As a take on what it was like to deal with the shattered results of the insanity that was trench warfare, this view of it leaves the aforementioned production in its wake. That being said, I still found the first half of the tome, concerning Stella Bain’s (not our heroine’s real name) convoluted war service a slog, to tell the honest to goodness So this is not Anita S’s finest effort, but it did become more palatable as we moved to the post-war period of her story.

stella bain

In the latter part there was a court battle over the custody of her children. Then she faces a return to Britain to confront a number of issues that will not go away and we then move into Hollywood territory. These later stages I zoomed through – it became quite compulsive reading. It told us much about the attitudes of the age about the place of the fairer gender in society and under the law. It tells of of the treatment of the often shells of combatants who did not come back from the great conflict unscathed in body or mind, as well as giving an insight into the early gestation of the study of mental disease.

Little did she know it, but Stella and her ilk were at the forefront of the transition into equality for her sex. Because of her pluck she was placed on something approximating the same footing in so many ways as the male of the species. Her admirable resilience in fighting against the absurd legal mores of the times only serves to remind that this battle still needs to be won.

As the novel ends, Stella and her hubby sit down to work out how long it will be into the future before ‘…the last soldier of the Great War is dead?’ They figure it out pretty well. I remember the Anzac Days of my youth when a bevy of these survivors marched at the head of the parade. Later on, we saw them struggling to wave from cars – and then they were gone. Now that process is repeating with the veterans from the second conflict. My own father participated in that, but sadly has long departed. In both wars tremendous courage abounded with the call to arms. But the realisation soon came about the true nature of killing your fellow man. Now, sadly, this week, here we go again. We have a prime minister seemingly itching to commit young Australian men and women to another messy and probably unwinnable war in a foreign land. When will we ever learn?

anita

The author’s website = http://www.anitashreve.com/

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