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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. Gabriel’s, an all-girls school tucked away in the mountains of North Carolina. Tildy Stratton, the undisputed 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. Gabriel’s, 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 school’s 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.  


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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. Gabriel’s, an all-girls school tucked away in the mountains of North Carolina. Tildy Stratton, the undisputed 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. Gabriel’s, 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 school’s 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.  

30 review for Unfinished Desires

  1. 5 out of 5

    Linda C

    This book proved to be ultimately to be a disappointment. It seemed to be a book in search of an identity. If it had been a 200 page memoir on growing up Catholic in the south, it would have been a very good book. Much of the writing was lovely and depicted the era (from 1930-1950ish) very well. However, THAT story could have been told in about 200 pages. So what occupied the remaining 200 pages? Ah, but that is the weakness in the book. The plot, loosely, centered around an event that occurred d This book proved to be ultimately to be a disappointment. It seemed to be a book in search of an identity. If it had been a 200 page memoir on growing up Catholic in the south, it would have been a very good book. Much of the writing was lovely and depicted the era (from 1930-1950ish) very well. However, THAT story could have been told in about 200 pages. So what occupied the remaining 200 pages? Ah, but that is the weakness in the book. The plot, loosely, centered around an event that occurred during the production of a freshman class play at a Catholic girls' school by the girls that would become the Class of 1955, interspersed with baggage from an earlier class, which included the school's headmistress, Mother Ravenel. Other books which focus on a climactic school house event generally have something that is actually climactic-- a murder, a suicide, a mass suicide, a cover-up, something, to make it feel that it was worthwhile to be reading all these extra pages. Although I was waiting, nope, nothing like that to be had-- only pages upon pages of discussion about a very bad play put on by 14 year old girls, where the climactic scene was anything but (and the book STILL went on for another 100 plus pages) and the death scene was a heart attack death of a young nun (which had been hinted at throughout the book) which could have occurred at any time, given the weakness of her heart. I wanted something dramatic to happen-- Tildy flings herself off the tower, Mother Malloy and Uncle Henry run off together, someone kills Mother Ravenel, Mother Ravenel kills someone-- something to justify the hours that I put into this book, reading, reading, reading to get to the PLAY (because you knew from early on in the book, that the climactic moment would be at the PLAY) and then-- uh, a heart attack? Tildy spray painting "Satin" (which was supposed to be Satan, but her dislexia made it come out as Satin)? There was nothing remotely exciting in this so-called pivotal scene. "Unfinished Desires" is, sadly, an unfinished book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette (Ms. Feisty)

    I read the Advanced Reader's Edition, which I won here on Good Reads. The book is due out on December 29. The letter that came with the book encourages me to "share candid thoughts with fellow readers" on Good Reads. Okey doke. My candid thoughts, coming right up. Gail Godwin is certainly one of the queens of character development. She takes you deep into the minds and motivations of the people in a way few authors even attempt. In Unfinished Desires, Godwin is especially skillful in her present I read the Advanced Reader's Edition, which I won here on Good Reads. The book is due out on December 29. The letter that came with the book encourages me to "share candid thoughts with fellow readers" on Good Reads. Okey doke. My candid thoughts, coming right up. Gail Godwin is certainly one of the queens of character development. She takes you deep into the minds and motivations of the people in a way few authors even attempt. In Unfinished Desires, Godwin is especially skillful in her presentation of the unlikeable characters who drive the events. Some of them you start out liking but end up hating after you compare their public persona with their real selves. Having also read Father Melancholy's Daughter, I'd say this is Godwin's greatest strength as an author. She understands our psychological frailty as humans and the way we constantly replay past experiences in our minds, re-framing them to suit what we need to believe. On to the story itself. It involves events in many different time frames, all centering on a Catholic boarding school for girls in North Carolina. So there are the nunsies, the girls in their various stages of adolescent awkwardness, and the townspeople who don't trust Catholicism but respect the school. In a nutshell: Teenage girls digging up dirt about youthful indiscretions of the nuns, and nuns trying to suppress information to maintain their pristine image. There were certainly things I liked about the story. But overall impression? Scrambled eggs. Godwin was trying to tell too many people's stories, many of which were not essential to the primary plot. All the skipping around in time frames and points of view was distracting and made the whole thing feel rather muddy. I don't mind going back and forth in time, but there were too many minor threads to follow. I am not a Catholic, nor even the slightest bit religious. So no doubt a lot of the subtleties went right past me. If you're a Catholic or a boarding school attendee, you'll probably relate to more of the story and find yourself alternately chuckling and cringing in recognition. I'd say it's definitely a book for a niche market. If you've never read Gail Godwin's work, I recommend Father Melancholy's Daughter. A little slow to get through, but if you stick with it you'll ultimately appreciate its careful construction and find it quite satisfying.

  3. 5 out of 5

    switterbug (Betsey)

    This is a mature, adult book about adolescent girl behavior. Not since Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye have I read such a powerful novel about teenage feminine conformity, coercion, betrayal, jealousy, secrets, and love. Godwin creates a labyrinth that begins with a simple layer and gradually builds to a complex and knotted snare. I was pulled in from the opening pages as this rich, multi-generational tapestry is woven as if from the loom. The book never loses steam, and the lyrical rhythm amplifies This is a mature, adult book about adolescent girl behavior. Not since Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye have I read such a powerful novel about teenage feminine conformity, coercion, betrayal, jealousy, secrets, and love. Godwin creates a labyrinth that begins with a simple layer and gradually builds to a complex and knotted snare. I was pulled in from the opening pages as this rich, multi-generational tapestry is woven as if from the loom. The book never loses steam, and the lyrical rhythm amplifies as the story builds. Godwin designed an absolutely beautiful brocade of a book. She sublimely and organically explores the conscious, unconscious, and subconscious layers of the human mind and all its dark and light attributes while she braids a tale of intrigue, desire, and loss from the fabric of memory. The central narrative is the school year of 1951-52 at a Catholic boarding school, Mount St. Gabriel's, in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. Mother "Suzanne" Ravenel, age 85, is reaching back and writing her memoir in 2001 of her time as a student and then headmistress of the now defunct school. She is plagued by events that occurred that one year, especially after her freshman girls staged the annual spring play and brought buried secrets into the performance. She feels stuck and unable to write about that time. Memories--how they are interpreted and relived and revived by the people who remember them--that is the primary theme that this intricate web and convoluted story is built upon. Their unfinished desires, a key element of each person's intimate story (and of course the title of this book), is subsumed and sometimes emotionally tampered by various interpretations of past events. Godwin uses several narrative devices with ease. Developments are non-linear and yet not confusing, and she uses several perspectives, along and within the third-person voice, to tell the complete story. There is Mother Ravenel at her tape recorder or walking with other nuns at the retirement home, contemplating her past and receding into her future. Interspersed with that is the story of that "toxic" year and the girls at the boarding school--shy and recently orphaned Chloe, who talks to her dead mother and draws pictures that explain mysterious incidents; Maud, the enigmatic, elusive and beautiful daughter of a broken home; and Tildy, the assertive ringleader and undiagnosed dyslexic who switched best friends that year from Maud to Chloe and added tension to the clusters of girls. Tildy's sister, Madeline, animates the narrative with her grounded and giving nature. Their acid-tongued mother, Cornelia, a former classmate of Mother Ravenel, adds history and a fiendish dose of doubt and a wicked but droll perspective. She is contemptuous of Suzanne and imparts her derisiveness to her daughters. Cornelia's twin sister, Anotnia, was Mother Ravenel's best friend when they were students at Mount St. Gabriel's, and their shared history is the source of many of the secrets and future scorn by Cornelia. Then there is Mother "Kate" Malloy, the young teacher and protégé of Mother Ravenel. She is pale, beautiful, and empathic, and a fortress for the teenage girls. She claimed her vocation at an early age, but she also identifies with the tumult of her students. A handful of the male characters are also dimensional and integral to the story. In any sprawling novel there will also be a few paper-thin walk-ons or mere vehicles for some larger purpose, and Godwin's is no exception. Often, she mirrors the scope and tone of Dickens, especially with her male characters. We also move forward in time through some epistolary passages, which add a surprising twist and intrigue to the tale. As Godwin switches perspectives, we are carried effortlessly through the story. This is a difficult task for many authors to pull off, but Godwin engages us instantly from moment to moment, even as she changes time and perspective and narrative mode. The story deepens as the pages turn. I found myself in a kind of wonderment when the story was about 2/3 of the way through. I realized that this initially straightforward story, a story that could have become a sappy melodrama in lesser hands, had evolved into this monster of an organism with knotty, knuckled tentacles that surround and imbibe the heart. What is outward about this story is also latent and hidden. There are many submerged facets of this tale that pour into your psyche with a subliminal but fierce gusto. Unfinished Desires is a dense but very accessible novel. It is not a "quick read" kind of book for the beach. It is a novel you savor and read as it is intended--closely and with its gradual, exalted rhythm. It is a quiet squall, a subdued tempest. The driving action is mostly psychological. It is masterful but not perfect. The last few pages, although revealing, felt a little tacked on, without sufficient roots. However, it doesn't weaken the overall novel, which delivers a sterling tale of humanity, warts and all.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Faith

    By the time I finished reading this novel, I didn't particularly care for any of the characters. I didn't dislike them all, but I found them annoying. I was looking for a noble character -- not necessarily bigger than life. Ordinary is fine, but even those characters who showed potential to be bigger than life, in the end, were just very ordinary, interesting only in the way observing strangers is interesting. Unfinished Desires is the story of a pivotal year in the life of Mother Ravenel. The st By the time I finished reading this novel, I didn't particularly care for any of the characters. I didn't dislike them all, but I found them annoying. I was looking for a noble character -- not necessarily bigger than life. Ordinary is fine, but even those characters who showed potential to be bigger than life, in the end, were just very ordinary, interesting only in the way observing strangers is interesting. Unfinished Desires is the story of a pivotal year in the life of Mother Ravenel. The story goes back and forth between 2001 and 1952. Suzanne Ravenel is writing her memoir of the school and we jump back to the memories she apparently is having a difficult time writing. The school girls of 1952 are probably not unlike schoolgirls of today, though less sophisticated. In this private Catholic school, they are typically smart and self important, but no wiser than girls of the same age anywhere, any time. Unfortunately, Mother Ravenel, headmistress and former student at the school, was only slightly ahead of her students in 1952, concerning self importance and snobbishness. This is apparent as everything leads to the fateful play at the end of the school year. We see it not as Mother Ravenel would have written it, but as it happened, without the one sided emotional content. This is a marvelously titled book. As I think on what happened in the story, it becomes clear that, the letdown and disappointment are possibly intentional. Learning about the characters at the end of the novel, in 2001, was a lot like finding old school friends on Facebook. Some turned out to be very different than expected and other were just more like they were in school. We all imagine we will end up the remarkable one, but we are lucky to live up to the modest expectations of us. Learning what happened with the play and seeing the older women in 2001 made me ask what the point was. It's something to think about. Godwin's writing is lovely and I enjoyed reading, but over all, the book was a bit disappointing to me.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    This is the first novel I've read by this author, and although I loved the setting, and the novel is beautifully written, it was not an easy read. Briefly, the story begins in 2001, Mother Suzanne Ravenel is an 85 year old, former headmistress of Mount St. Gabriel's, Roman Catholic boarding school for girls. The school was founded in 1910, and closed in 1990, and the school is located in the mountains of North Carolina. The school serves as the background for the well written novel. Mother Suzanne This is the first novel I've read by this author, and although I loved the setting, and the novel is beautifully written, it was not an easy read. Briefly, the story begins in 2001, Mother Suzanne Ravenel is an 85 year old, former headmistress of Mount St. Gabriel's, Roman Catholic boarding school for girls. The school was founded in 1910, and closed in 1990, and the school is located in the mountains of North Carolina. The school serves as the background for the well written novel. Mother Suzanne Ravenel attended the school in the 1920s, and is recruited to write a memoir and record the history of the school. As she reflects back some 50 years, she is haunted by the events that occurred during one particularly "toxic year", 1951-1952. It was the year she became the headmistress of the school were prominent families for generations sent their daughters. What happened that "toxic year" involving a group of ninth grade girls, and those responsible for their education, causes even the nuns to wrestle with their own demons from the past, about such issues as faith, love and their chosen vocation. MY THOUGHTS - Most of the story is told from the third person point of view of the many characters involved, except for Mother Ravenel. The story covers shifting time periods and points of view, and at times I felt that the characters and their relationships with others, was very confusing. This book took me about one month to complete, because I found that I needed to read it very slowly in order to understand what was going on. I actually thought about abandoning this 400 page novel, but I am glad that I hung in there. In the end, it was worth it. Unfinished Desires touches on so many themes: families, friendships, power struggles, buried memories, but the most important theme was that of forgiveness -- forgiving others as well as ourselves. RECOMMENDED

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Gail Godwin’s Unfinished Desires is in the league with some of her best work (for instance my favorite Evensong). Desires is set nearly entirely in an elite Catholic Girl’s school only its time frame spans nearly a century. We get the perspective and stories of the schools inception into 2008 and those who shaped the school’s history (a lot of nuns, girls, and parents). Only we don’t get the story chronologically, but instead Godwin builds up a little momentum settling with one time period and n Gail Godwin’s Unfinished Desires is in the league with some of her best work (for instance my favorite Evensong). Desires is set nearly entirely in an elite Catholic Girl’s school only its time frame spans nearly a century. We get the perspective and stories of the schools inception into 2008 and those who shaped the school’s history (a lot of nuns, girls, and parents). Only we don’t get the story chronologically, but instead Godwin builds up a little momentum settling with one time period and narrator, and then almost arbitrarily shifts years and points of view. Not only does it get frustrating to read at times but also drags out the story so that it limps and staggers in places. All of the story’s dramatic action culminates in a play put on by the 1951 9th grade class, but we know that very early on in the book, and Godwin sure takes her time bringing the play into her story. The book manages to redeem itself through its compulsive readability. Godwin is a classically gifted storyteller and this exploration of the teenage girl dynamic gives her plenty of substance to work with. Godwin’s plotlines may be more subtle then other contemporary fiction authors, but her characterization and imagery do not fail to engage. One thing you can count on from any of her novels is that they will be a good read, Unfinished Desires is no exception. Fan should be pleased, and this novel is an excellent start for those unfamiliar with the considerable Godwin. With this delicate and complex novel Godwin adds to bookshelf of modern literary classics.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Callie

    This one is not for the faint of heart. All-girls Catholic school, the important action taking place in the 1950s. The machinations of 'mean girls' in ninth grade. Oh, it will take you back, my friends, back to when you were fourteen. Do you really want to revisit those days? You were either one of the queen bees inflicting pain on others or you were being tormented by your domineering best friend or you were too popular or you wanted desperately to be more popular or SOMETHING. But things were This one is not for the faint of heart. All-girls Catholic school, the important action taking place in the 1950s. The machinations of 'mean girls' in ninth grade. Oh, it will take you back, my friends, back to when you were fourteen. Do you really want to revisit those days? You were either one of the queen bees inflicting pain on others or you were being tormented by your domineering best friend or you were too popular or you wanted desperately to be more popular or SOMETHING. But things were not right with the world. You were insecure. You may have been anorexic or pimple-faced, or brace-faced or had bad hair or were maturing too fast or too slow, whatever it was, I know that fourteen was probably not a great year for you. Your stomach will probably churn a little as you page through this one. I thought the character of Tildy was particularly well-drawn, and in fact, it was fun to read a book which had so many strong female characters. Godwin does describe the complexity of female friendships very well. There are lots of pairs of women in this book and the plot unfolds slowly. For most of the slow unfolding I was a patient and willing reader. However, towards about page 350 or so, I started to think that the pace needed to speed a little. Also, the climax after that long build did not deliver the punch I had hoped. It was a bit flat. And, there were plot points that were repeated, I'm not sure why she felt it was important to do this. It was a distraction. Maybe the book could have done with one more revision?

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    This novel is based on Godwin's own experiences at a Catholic day school in North Carolina. The retired headmistress is writing a memoir /historyof the school and is drawn back to a certain incident in the early 1950s that caused the expulsion of several students as well as her own leave of absence. But it is as much about the relationships between women - mothers and daughters, teachers and students, and the passionate friendships that exist between adolscent girls. In some ways, it is a very c This novel is based on Godwin's own experiences at a Catholic day school in North Carolina. The retired headmistress is writing a memoir /historyof the school and is drawn back to a certain incident in the early 1950s that caused the expulsion of several students as well as her own leave of absence. But it is as much about the relationships between women - mothers and daughters, teachers and students, and the passionate friendships that exist between adolscent girls. In some ways, it is a very conventional novel, in others, a surprising and penetrating look at how power manifests itself in those same relationships and how religion was one way that women could empower themselves, even within the confines of a traditional church. There are also shadows of other great novels about teachers - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie comes to mind.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Annette

    Remind me not to read another Godwin. Looking back at two previous novels, I remember.... I saw this one at the AAUW book nook and picked it up for all this free time at home. Sigh.... Now I'm back to rereading good stuff that lives on my shelves! The extended introduction to all these characters was so painful and unskilled. I wrote lists of names and details just as I used to with Russian novels!~~ I found that I had to refer back to these lists constantly as so few of the characters were memor Remind me not to read another Godwin. Looking back at two previous novels, I remember.... I saw this one at the AAUW book nook and picked it up for all this free time at home. Sigh.... Now I'm back to rereading good stuff that lives on my shelves! The extended introduction to all these characters was so painful and unskilled. I wrote lists of names and details just as I used to with Russian novels!~~ I found that I had to refer back to these lists constantly as so few of the characters were memorable. "For better or for worse, I am the walking deposit box of what's left." At the age of 14, "you felt that most adults ... had compromised themselves." "It is nice to be among people who are aware that you were once in power." "trite sayings to fill in for real talk" "There seemed to be staircase after staircase for social climbers in Palm Beach." leadership qualities or just bossing people around?! Maybe I would have liked it better if I were Catholic or had attended a boarding school. ... or maybe not. ********************************************* Now I've gone back to read other reviews after reading mine, and several readers said what I just said. Hmmm.... I'm thinking that Dickens puts me in the streets of the poor in London, and I can smell what they smell, see what they see. I don't have to be British or poor! Beryl Markham allows me to enjoy the pleasures of her life in Africa and then takes me along in her plane. In other words, really great writing broadens our lives and our perspectives in ways that this book just didn't for me. The really funny part is that we live not far from this school, in the mountains of North Carolina!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mardel

    I loved this book. Within this book is three stories, covering three timelines, cleverly weaved into one story. It's very easy to follow, as the author clearly notes which time and about who you are reading. The main characters Mother Suzanne, Mother Malloy, Tildy, Madeline, Chloe, Henry Vick, Maude, and a few others all have very strong voices, and are all very different people. We learn about each character little by little as the book progresses, not only through their own pov, but through eac I loved this book. Within this book is three stories, covering three timelines, cleverly weaved into one story. It's very easy to follow, as the author clearly notes which time and about who you are reading. The main characters Mother Suzanne, Mother Malloy, Tildy, Madeline, Chloe, Henry Vick, Maude, and a few others all have very strong voices, and are all very different people. We learn about each character little by little as the book progresses, not only through their own pov, but through each of the character's pov. There were times when I almost hated a couple of the characters, and at the same time could feel empathy for their ways and decisions. Not one of the characters were a completely perfect person, and yet not one of them were completely horrible either. The main part of this story takes place in 1951-1952 during a fateful freshman year at the Mount St.Gabriels all-girls school. There is a secondary story that takes place, mostly in the memories of a few of the main characters, and another section that deals with the later years of these students and staff. Mother Suzanne is asked by some of her previous students to write a memoir of the school when she is 85 years old. She is at that time retired and nearly blind. In her memories and thoughts you learn of her beginnings at the school, her friendships, how she becomes Mother Ravenal and what happens with a freshman class of 1951-51. We also get quite a few other points of view during the year of 1951-1952 as well as in the decade of 2001 through 2007. I love the way Gail Godwin has mapped out this book. It was great the way each section had different timelines in it, and how we slowly learned about the lives and loves of all these characters. There is humor, tragedy, sadness, unrequited love, love and hope all woven together in this excellant book. This is a book that I will recommend to many of my friends. I also now want to read more books by Gail Godwin. I read one of her books many, many years ago, and it was wonderful to be remindend of what a great writer Gail Godwin is. I'll be searching out some of her previous books now. This will make an excellant holiday gift to a reader.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    The scope of Unfinished Desires is simultaneously epic and claustrophobic. Set at a Catholic girls' school in the North Carolina mountains, the novel traces the lives of several of the students in the 1950s, their families, and the nuns who run the school. Using a somewhat common plot device, Godwin sends the reader back in time and into the future to understand her characters and the impact of their relationships and choices. It works as much more than a gimmick in this case: the students, teac The scope of Unfinished Desires is simultaneously epic and claustrophobic. Set at a Catholic girls' school in the North Carolina mountains, the novel traces the lives of several of the students in the 1950s, their families, and the nuns who run the school. Using a somewhat common plot device, Godwin sends the reader back in time and into the future to understand her characters and the impact of their relationships and choices. It works as much more than a gimmick in this case: the students, teachers, and the families in town are all haunted by various events in the recent and distant past; some attempt to live above their grudges, some destructively indulge them, some do both. About midway through reading, I felt pretty antsy--I was ready for something to HAPPEN already. But this book's strength is in its subtlety and restraint. The reader can see what's coming a hundred pages away, which I think is intentional so that when the climax occurs, we have been squirming in uncomfortable anticipation of how exactly it will play out. There aren't any cheap twists or shocking plot threads--the fullness of the characters and their carefully crafted lives don't need it. Read this book with patience and thoughtfulness, and you will be rewarded.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    I read this with my book group, which met to discuss on December 12, so that's the date I "finished" this book, hearing the reactions of others added to my own. As one group member put it, "Not my favorite Godwin." Her favorite is Evensong, which we also read with the group, and I also liked Evensong and Father Melancholy's Daughter better. In all of these books, there is great compassion for all kinds of people--a sort of tolerance and forgiveness for human flaws and foibles, even as some chara I read this with my book group, which met to discuss on December 12, so that's the date I "finished" this book, hearing the reactions of others added to my own. As one group member put it, "Not my favorite Godwin." Her favorite is Evensong, which we also read with the group, and I also liked Evensong and Father Melancholy's Daughter better. In all of these books, there is great compassion for all kinds of people--a sort of tolerance and forgiveness for human flaws and foibles, even as some characters seek to fight or escape bad behavior or maybe evil. I found Unfinished Desires to be burdened by obvious exposition, which was repeated by more than one character. When I read the acknowledgments at the end I understood that she had based the book on an actual history of an institution/place and this is probably what constricted her style and maybe even her plot. I did, however, care about the people. This book reminded me that everyone has reasons for what they do, and that people can change. Some people can change. Even if it takes a long time, and their motives are not exactly pure!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    I gave this book 4 stars because the writing was exceptional. Godwin does an amazing job of developing these characters and bringing their personalities to life. This was no simple undertaking given that this story was filled with larger than life personalities that jumped off the page and grabbed your attention. Every character, dead or alive, spent time in the spotlight and fought for the reader's attention. I found the early passages of Mother Ravenel's memoir a little tedious and boring but I gave this book 4 stars because the writing was exceptional. Godwin does an amazing job of developing these characters and bringing their personalities to life. This was no simple undertaking given that this story was filled with larger than life personalities that jumped off the page and grabbed your attention. Every character, dead or alive, spent time in the spotlight and fought for the reader's attention. I found the early passages of Mother Ravenel's memoir a little tedious and boring but as her dictations continued the story became more interesting. I enjoyed the flashback interactions between Tildy and her schoolmates most of all. She was truly a love her or hate her character. The thing that was missing for me was the feeling of identifying with the story and/or the characters. While the story was well written and beautifully crafted, it left me with an "eh, so what" feeling at the end. I certainly appreciated the artistry and craft of this story but missed the connection to the characters. I left it feeling sort of hollow and glad that I was done.

  14. 5 out of 5

    judy

    I was so excited reading this book. I had forgotten what a remarkable writer Goodwin is. Her character development is second to none. The complexity of the characters and their interaction had that all important book club word "Discussable" woven into every line. I wanted to talk about this female coming-of-age novel with a room full of intelligent women. I could imagine us still debating as we walked out the door. My euphoria continued until the end of the book--or what I thought was the end. I I was so excited reading this book. I had forgotten what a remarkable writer Goodwin is. Her character development is second to none. The complexity of the characters and their interaction had that all important book club word "Discussable" woven into every line. I wanted to talk about this female coming-of-age novel with a room full of intelligent women. I could imagine us still debating as we walked out the door. My euphoria continued until the end of the book--or what I thought was the end. I turned that final page and realized that there were still some pages left. To avoid a spoiler I'll just say that I thought the remaining pages were a mistake. Not only did I not need to know the information they contained, they took the meticulously created world in which I was immersed and rendered it pathetically mundane. I don't regret reading the book but, over time, I hope I forget those concluding pages.

  15. 5 out of 5

    E

    Although I cringe at the title, better suited for a heaving-bosom cover, this book cements my earlier belief that no one--with the possible exception of Margaret Atwood in Cat's Eye--better understands or depicts the complex horror of teenage/adolescent female friendships than Godwin. Friendships that can turn on a dime, that can be the epitome of loyalty or of betrayal--all within a single day's time. Godwin creates such a detailed, believable setting in the nun-run girls' school located in th Although I cringe at the title, better suited for a heaving-bosom cover, this book cements my earlier belief that no one--with the possible exception of Margaret Atwood in Cat's Eye--better understands or depicts the complex horror of teenage/adolescent female friendships than Godwin. Friendships that can turn on a dime, that can be the epitome of loyalty or of betrayal--all within a single day's time. Godwin creates such a detailed, believable setting in the nun-run girls' school located in the NC mountains in a former resort hotel. Characters vicious and clever, wicked and admirable, lovable and cringe-worthy, some forever stalled in unrepentant non-self-awareness (Tildy, Ravenel). Grab a bottle of wine--or a beaker of scotch--and settle into this book like a soothing tub of hot water.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Stockham

    I picked this book up used because the author's name resonated. It seems I had read "A Mother and Two Daughters" and "The Finishing School" in the past. This story takes place in a Catholic high school in the mountains of North Carolina. It spans three generations of students, focusing on the school's matriarch. The story moves between the memoisr of the school she is writing and the mothers and daughters who were students in 1931 and 1952. Taken from the jacket: "In Unfinished Dreams" a beloved I picked this book up used because the author's name resonated. It seems I had read "A Mother and Two Daughters" and "The Finishing School" in the past. This story takes place in a Catholic high school in the mountains of North Carolina. It spans three generations of students, focusing on the school's matriarch. The story moves between the memoisr of the school she is writing and the mothers and daughters who were students in 1931 and 1952. Taken from the jacket: "In Unfinished Dreams" 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." It bogged down a bit mid-story, hence the lack of the 5th star. But a fascinating book for me (a Protestant) to read.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lenoir

    Despite the length of time it took me to read this book I really did like it. This was a pretty complex story that jumps back and forth in time and between narrators. In the beginning I got a little confused about who was who because there is a very large cast. Ultimately, this is the story of a nun who is the retired former head of a Catholic school. She was asked to write a memoir of the school had finally deal with some events from her past. The changes in point of view where excellent for ma Despite the length of time it took me to read this book I really did like it. This was a pretty complex story that jumps back and forth in time and between narrators. In the beginning I got a little confused about who was who because there is a very large cast. Ultimately, this is the story of a nun who is the retired former head of a Catholic school. She was asked to write a memoir of the school had finally deal with some events from her past. The changes in point of view where excellent for making you question your own feelings for her. In the end I wasn't really sure if I was supposed to like her or not. I don't think she and I would have gotten along.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Krob

    Although I ordinarily enjoy books about schools and boarding schools in particular, this book really failed to deliver a very good story. The novel toggles between the memoirs of a retired Mother Superior of a girls' school in 1951 and the current lives of the characters. It also occasionally delves back to the girlhood of the Mother Superior. I disliked the back and forth narrative; it wasn't done very well. The story could have been much better. Although I ordinarily enjoy books about schools and boarding schools in particular, this book really failed to deliver a very good story. The novel toggles between the memoirs of a retired Mother Superior of a girls' school in 1951 and the current lives of the characters. It also occasionally delves back to the girlhood of the Mother Superior. I disliked the back and forth narrative; it wasn't done very well. The story could have been much better.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jana

    I like this author's style of writing. She is very talented at creating and describing characters. Although I was enjoying the book, I decided to stop reading when there was a lesbian kiss which involved one of the nuns (before she became a nun.) I just thought that was completely unnecessary. I was afraid where the book was headed, so I just stopped reading. I like this author's style of writing. She is very talented at creating and describing characters. Although I was enjoying the book, I decided to stop reading when there was a lesbian kiss which involved one of the nuns (before she became a nun.) I just thought that was completely unnecessary. I was afraid where the book was headed, so I just stopped reading.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Heather Middlebrooks

    I did not think it was written well. It went from 3rd person to 1st person sometimes in the middle of a section. It was unnecessarily wordy. The last few sections were the best. To the point and told the major parts of the book. The characters never really developed the bonds that they should have.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Rudin

    I didn't even make it to page 50. A Catholic school for girls in the 1950's. The story constantly goes from the present to the past and is so confusing. Throw in a lot of information on Catholicism and you have one boring book. I didn't even make it to page 50. A Catholic school for girls in the 1950's. The story constantly goes from the present to the past and is so confusing. Throw in a lot of information on Catholicism and you have one boring book.

  22. 4 out of 5

    📚Linda Blake

    Boring.... I tried. I really tried, but just couldn't finish it. Maybe I've just had too much of the "mean girls" mentality. Boring.... I tried. I really tried, but just couldn't finish it. Maybe I've just had too much of the "mean girls" mentality.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    An interesting back and forth between the perceived reality of people at a girl's prep school and the earlier experiences that shaped their lives. An interesting back and forth between the perceived reality of people at a girl's prep school and the earlier experiences that shaped their lives.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    One of those guilty indulgence reads....and considering this is about a Catholic girls school the irony of all that is not lost on me.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Teji

    This was okay. The dustjacket calls this a “sweeping” novel; in this case, I think that is just shorthand for too many plots jammed into one book. There is too much going on. The two overarching themes seems to be ambition and memory. It centers on the life and career of Suzanne Ravenel, her ambitions, sacrifices, and secrets. As she tries to write a memoir of the school where she served as headmistress, her thoughts frequently return to one pivotal night and the events leading up to it. The cha This was okay. The dustjacket calls this a “sweeping” novel; in this case, I think that is just shorthand for too many plots jammed into one book. There is too much going on. The two overarching themes seems to be ambition and memory. It centers on the life and career of Suzanne Ravenel, her ambitions, sacrifices, and secrets. As she tries to write a memoir of the school where she served as headmistress, her thoughts frequently return to one pivotal night and the events leading up to it. The character development is solid. The writing is evocative. The plot is the problem. The shifts in time are sometimes difficult to follow (the novel ranges from the late 1920s-2001). The technique of showing the same scene but from a different perspective is not utilized effectively-- not only it is over-used but the author frequently repeats the same scenes over and over again using the exact same words-- if the other character(s)’s viewpoint doesn’t add anything to what we already know—we don’t need to see things from their perspective… Quotes " ‘Poor Mrs. Prince—her trouble was she wanted to be liked too much…That’s always the undoing of anyone.’ Tildy's mother could be devastating when she narrowed in on some person’s shortcomings. She could pronounce death sentences with a corrosive turn of phrase.” p63 “Poor Harold was perfect, the perfect husband. And I’ll tell you something, girls, and you can remember this when you are widows: he was even more perfect after he died”. p253

  26. 5 out of 5

    Laura Spira

    It has taken me a long time to finish this book which either means I am so enjoying the company of the characters that I don't want it to end, or it's a bit of a struggle, although not so bad that I want to give up. This book falls into the latter category. I enjoyed Gail Godwin's early books many years ago and was excited to find this one but it proved disappointing. I found the main characters - the three convent schoolgirls, Tildy, Chloe and Maud - quite difficult to distinguish from the star It has taken me a long time to finish this book which either means I am so enjoying the company of the characters that I don't want it to end, or it's a bit of a struggle, although not so bad that I want to give up. This book falls into the latter category. I enjoyed Gail Godwin's early books many years ago and was excited to find this one but it proved disappointing. I found the main characters - the three convent schoolgirls, Tildy, Chloe and Maud - quite difficult to distinguish from the start and had to keep reminding myself about who they were and which family they belonged to. The nuns were similarly hard to distinguish, apart from Mother Ravenel (Suzanne) whose pernicious influence pervades the story which in part she narrates. The time switches were also rather confusing. The sense of the 1950s was well conveyed and the social snobbery of the community in which the convent school plays such an important part was very credible, as was the heightened and suffocating emotional atmosphere of the school. But the pivot of the story - the apparent mystery of the relationship between the two friends, Antonia and Suzanne, and their religious vocation - did not offer sufficient dramatic tension for its ultimate explanation to surprise. And I didn't care enough about the three girls to want to know about the rest of their lives, all of which was recounted in reminiscence at later reunions, in a rather hurried way in the last part of the book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Grecia Ramirez

    Think I can sum this up: Meh. A story whose climax is divulged multiple times for the different perspectives it may offer. Not an altogether bad way to go if the same description wouldn't have been used. I watched a scene play out twice almost verbatim. I feel like the end, though most unnecessary, was also the most gratifying. Hearing about the girls' lives and what else they did. Otherwise, it kind of slow-walked me to a point already stated. All because of the living twin, really. And the des Think I can sum this up: Meh. A story whose climax is divulged multiple times for the different perspectives it may offer. Not an altogether bad way to go if the same description wouldn't have been used. I watched a scene play out twice almost verbatim. I feel like the end, though most unnecessary, was also the most gratifying. Hearing about the girls' lives and what else they did. Otherwise, it kind of slow-walked me to a point already stated. All because of the living twin, really. And the description makes it sound like all of this hinged on Tildy's befriending of Chloe, which I'm not entirely sure I agree [email protected]

  28. 5 out of 5

    Candace

    Bookclub book and I made it about halfway, so I think that's enough for a critique. I felt the the story fell flat...perhaps it could have been written in a way that would catch my interest...it wasn't, and it didn't! The characters were a confusing bunch of old nuns, young nun, Catholic girl school teens and their mothers, several of whom had attended the same school...there was not a single character that I cared, even a tiny bit, what happened to them. I've not read this author before and it Bookclub book and I made it about halfway, so I think that's enough for a critique. I felt the the story fell flat...perhaps it could have been written in a way that would catch my interest...it wasn't, and it didn't! The characters were a confusing bunch of old nuns, young nun, Catholic girl school teens and their mothers, several of whom had attended the same school...there was not a single character that I cared, even a tiny bit, what happened to them. I've not read this author before and it seems quite a number people who have read others seem to feel that this is not up to her usual standard, but I think I'll pass on any other...even though they might possibly be better to me.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Donielle

    This is my second read by Gail Godwin, and even more satisfactory than the last. Her writing style is so lovely and descriptive, yet is also easily comprehended. Her characters are round and full of growth and contradictions, emotion runs high and simmers for ages, the small actions of the past slice across the destinies of others in unpredictable, often tragic ways...it's just all so believably human. I loved it. The last star has been left off due to an abruptness in the ending that I wish wer This is my second read by Gail Godwin, and even more satisfactory than the last. Her writing style is so lovely and descriptive, yet is also easily comprehended. Her characters are round and full of growth and contradictions, emotion runs high and simmers for ages, the small actions of the past slice across the destinies of others in unpredictable, often tragic ways...it's just all so believably human. I loved it. The last star has been left off due to an abruptness in the ending that I wish were more developed, but, really, it was a delightful read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mary K

    Godwin's writing is lovely, but this book was boring. I skipped pages at a time. The characters weren't that interesting, and the minor plots (there wasn't a major one) were also dull. When I came across a plot resolution, I wondered why I had even been curious. I rarely watch movies and rarely read fiction so I'm not looking for edge-of-the-seat adventures, but still, I expected just a LITTLE bit of drama. There was none. Godwin's writing is lovely, but this book was boring. I skipped pages at a time. The characters weren't that interesting, and the minor plots (there wasn't a major one) were also dull. When I came across a plot resolution, I wondered why I had even been curious. I rarely watch movies and rarely read fiction so I'm not looking for edge-of-the-seat adventures, but still, I expected just a LITTLE bit of drama. There was none.

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