"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
From the Hardcover edition.
The novel's structure is odd and original, with multiple time frames and perspectives, and a large cast of charactersdifficult to sort out at first. Soon enough, though, clear patterns emerge…The world of Mount St. Gabriel's is small, but the novel feels sprawling, and, if these women's power struggles are often petty, they are also delicious. Appalling characters are rendered sympathetic as we learn their secrets; good characters are allowed a decency that's surprisingly bracing. Though a where-are-they-now wrap-up section at the end is too long and too summarized, Unfinished Desires is usually brisk and involving.
The Washington Post
…reserved yet powerful…Godwin has created several deeply affecting characters.
The New York Times
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. (Dec.)
Godwin's latest novel (after Queen of the Underworld) is a convoluted tale of intrigue at a girls' boarding school that spans generations. Mount St. Gabriel, an exclusive academy in the North Carolina mountains, was founded by two nuns at the beginning of the 20th century. The school's sheltered atmosphere promoted rigorous academic and religious education but allowed adolescent jealousies to fester unchecked. The story's major characters attended the school in the early 1950s, when the school's headmistress was the manipulative Mother Ravenel, herself an alumna from the 1920s, as were some of the students' mothers. The story hopscotches in time from the school's founding to the near present, when the elderly Mother Ravenel dictates her memoir and aging classmates reunite to reminisce. It's a chore to keep the many generations of characters straight, especially when so many are superficially drawn. The promise of uncovering Mother Ravenel's involvement in a past incident of seeming import to one of the families lures the reader on, but the denouement, though tragic, reveals little motivation beyond schoolgirl pettiness. VERDICT Of interest to die-hard Godwin fans.—Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Libs., Harrisonburg, VA
After a couple of subpar efforts, Godwin (Queen of the Underworld, 2006, etc.) is back in top form with a gripping tale of jealousies and power struggles at a Catholic girls' school. In the year 2001, elderly Mother Suzanne Ravenel tape-records her memories of her 50 years at Mount Saint Gabriel's in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. Her worst memories are of the dreadful school year 1951-52, when a turbulent ninth grader provoked an outburst that resulted in the headmistress being sent on a leave of absence. Mother Ravenel's own student years at Mount Saint Gabriel's in the 1930s also figure in the story, as does her fraught friendship with Antonia Tilden. This being the South, the separate generations are connected by blood and grievances. Antonia's orphaned niece Chloe is in that 1951-52 ninth-grade class, and she becomes best friends with manipulative, needy Tildy Stratton, daughter of Antonia's embittered twin Cordelia, who's convinced that Suzanne Ravenel's pushiness led to Antonia abandoning her true vocation as a nun. Cordelia's animosity and malice drive the plot, as Tildy takes up her mother's vendetta against the admittedly bossy, self-righteous Mother Ravenel. Chloe's kind Uncle Henry is the only male character of any significance; the emphasis is on female friendships, especially the adolescent variety, with its gusts of hormonal emotions and intricate maneuvers for position. Bad mothers get a good deal of attention as well (there are quite a few of them), and Godwin elicits our understanding for all her characters without letting them off the hook for bad behavior. She skillfully unfolds fascinatingly tangled motives as she keeps the action bustling along. Movingfinal scenes show an old nun realizing that mixed motives matter less than a lifetime of service, and two old friends reconnecting after 55 years, matured and seasoned by what they've endured, but not so very different from what they were at 14. A strong story populated by a host of memorable characters-smart, satisfying fiction, one of the author's best in years.