Synopses & Reviews
From Gail Godwin, three-time National Book Award finalist and acclaimed New York Times
bestselling author of Evensong
and The Finishing School
, comes a sweeping new novel of friendship, loyalty, rivalries, redemption, and memory.
It is the fall of 1951 at Mount St. Gabriels, an all-girls school tucked away in the mountains of North Carolina. Tildy Stratton, the undisputed queen bee of her class, befriends Chloe Starnes, a new student recently orphaned by the untimely and mysterious death of her mother. Their friendship fills a void for both girls but also sets in motion a chain of events that will profoundly affect the course of many lives, including the girls young teacher and the schools matriarch, Mother Suzanne Ravenel.
Fifty years on, the headmistress relives one pivotal night, trying to reconcile past and present, reaching back even further to her own senior year at the school, where the roots of a tragedy are buried.
In Unfinished Desires, a beloved author delivers a gorgeous new novel in which thwarted desires are passed on for generations-and captures the rare moment when a soul breaks free.
"Bestselling author Godwin (Evensong; The Finishing School) brings readers back in time to the early 1950s in this endearing story of Catholic school girls and the nuns who oversee them. As Mother Suzanne Ravenel begins a memoir of her 60-plus years at Mount St. Gabriel's School in Mountain City, N.C., she's forced to re-examine the 'toxic year' of 1951 1952, one of her worst at the school beginning with the arrival of ninth-grade student Chloe Starnes, who's recently lost her mother, and Mother Malloy, a beautiful young nun assigned to the freshman class. Starnes and Malloy's arrivals presage a shift in the ranks of freshman Tildy Stratton's cruel clique, with significant consequences for all involved. Change, when it finally comes, stems from the girls' attempt to revive a play written years before by Ravenel. Godwin captures brilliantly the subtleties of friendships between teenage girls, their ambivalence toward religion and their momentous struggle to define people especially themselves. Poignant and transporting, this faux memoir makes a convincing, satisfying novel." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Godwin, three-time National Book Award Finalist and "New York Times"-bestselling author of "Evensong," delivers a gorgeous new novel in which thwarted desires are passed on for generations, capturing the rare moment when a soul breaks free.
BONUS: This edition contains an Unfinished Desires
From Gail Godwin, three-time National Book Award finalist and acclaimed New York Times bestselling
Sparking enthusiasm for a play about the founding of their North Carolina mountains Catholic girls' school, a charismatic ninth grader and her recently orphaned best friend set in motion a series of events that have decades-long ramifications.
About the Author
"A large, roomy story of love, loss, fidelity, secrets, rivalry and faith in the lives of a charming, flawed troupe of characters…. Provocative and rewarding."—Boston Globe
"This rich world…draws and holds the reader from the first to the final pages of the work. " —Denver Post
"Tender but clear-eyed …Godwin’s South has always been a place where charm and good manners can barely conceal the emotional drama pulsing beneath the surface…Recalls the fraught family bonds of Godwin’s best novels…"—San Francisco Chronicle
"Godwin’s reserved yet powerful new novel is set in a boarding school in the mountains of North Carolina…Though it’s a beautiful well-intentioned institution, the school is anything but serene…."—New York Times Book Review
"If you plan on reading just one great novel in 2010, this might be it… a big old-fashioned book about jealousy and passion at a Catholic girl’s school, written with Gail Godwin’s trademark depth and humor…."—Bookpage
"Godwin’s writing is … marvelous, engaging, clever." —Christian Science Monitor
"Poignant and transporting…convincing, satisfying."—Publishers Weekly
"Intoxicating… Godwin’s latest novel charms."—Asheville Citizen-Times
"Masterly."—Dallas Morning News
“A strong story populated by a host of memorable characters–smart, satisfying fiction, one of the author’s best in years.”—Kirkus Reviews starred review,
"If you plan on reading just one great novel in 2010, this might be it. Unfinished Desires is a big old-fashioned book about jealousy and passion at a Catholic girl’s school, written with best-selling author Gail Godwin’s trademark depth and humor … Godwin’s 13th novel is filled with penetrating observations on women’s friendships, family and faith … The wise, human story she tells reaches beyond the boundaries of region and religion, satisfying any reader looking for a good story."—Bookpage
"What better setting for exploring female bonds than a Southern Catholic girls’ school where epic feuds and forgiveness pass through generations? Godwin’s take is smart and intriguing." —Good Housekeeping
"Ten Titles to Watch For: This seasoned author revisits familiar territory. Fascinating, always."—O: The Oprah Magazine
Reading Group Guide
1. In Mother Ravenel’s 2001 reflections on Mount St. Gabriel’s, how does she foreshadow the events that transpire in the “toxic year” of 1951? By the end of Unfinished Desires,
do you think she’s reconciled herself to this “year better forgotten”? Does she “prevail”? Does she leave anything “undone”?
2. Who is the Red Nun? How does the myth and tragedy of her origin shape, sustain, and “protect” the Mount St. Gabriel’s community?
3. What is “holy daring” as Mother Elizabeth Wallingford, foundress of Mount St. Gabriel’s, conceived it? Discuss how Mother Ravenel interprets and relates “holy daring” and “a woman’s freedom in God.”
4. How and why does Mother Malloy, at Madeline’s urging, encourage Tildy to keep her “intrepid little soul”? Does her diligent tutoring change Tildy?
5. Why does Mother Ravenel place Tildy in charge of the freshman class revival of the Red Nun play? Does she ultimately regret this decision?
6. What is Agnes’s “mortal mistake”? Do you think she anticipated her own untimely death? Why or why not? Is Chloe really “haunted” by her mother?
7. Tildy understands that “best friends have been known to do hurtful things to each other.” Does this explain why Suzanne Ravenel decides to enter as a postulant without her best friend, Antonia? If not, why did she “jump the gun on [her] vocation”?
8. Do you agree with Tildy that “some girls are just always background” and “some girls just stand out”? How does Chloe counter Tildy’s argument? Why doesn’t Chloe unveil her “masterpiece” to the class?
9. Discuss the impact of Cornelia Stratton’s “dry ice” comments on those she loves. How does her “caustic tongue” influence her daughters? Her sister, Antonia? Mother Ravenel?
10. Consider Tildy and Maud’s friendship from its beginning and from each girl’s perspective. How does their friendship evolve? Is it, like each of them, a “work in progress”? How do their perceptions of each other change? How would you define their relationship at the end of the novel?
11. Reading David Copperfield for Mother Malloy’s class, Maud is introduced to the idea that “someone else’s story, if told a certain way, could make you ache as though it were your own.” Do you identify strongly with one particular character’s story in Unfinished Desires? Which one(s)?
12. Discuss the importance and power of secrets in Unfinished Desires. How do they serve to either unite or isolate those who tell them and those whom they are about?