Title: Unfinished Desires: A Novel
Author: Gail Godwin
Release Date: January 5, 2010
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Source: Amazon Vine
Rating: 3 out of 5
Unfinished Desires is the story of a group of girls attending a Catholic boarding school run by nuns in the 1950’s. The story is told as a faux memoir of the headmaster of the school, looking back at the infamous “toxic” class of 1951-52 and revealing what happened during that year that changed so many lives.
Unfinished Desires is really a difficult book to review. There is so much going on in its pages, so many characters, and overall it’s just a very complicated novel. However, I’ll do my best to articulate what did and didn’t work for me in this lengthy tome.
Godwin did a wonderful job capturing a Catholic school atmosphere in Unfinished Desires. The dynamics between teenage girls are accurately depicted in this book, and Godwin immerses the reader in the details of the novel. Additionally, the characters are well-developed. The central personalities of the novel, Tildy and Maud, are very well established. Godwin does an admirable job making this a coming of age story for these two girls. Additionally, they are very realistically and convincingly drawn.
There are a lot of characters in Unfinished Desires, and while it keeps the reader intrigued, it is very difficult to keep track of all of them. It doesn’t help that the time keeps jumping from the present day to the 1950’s, and that some of the main characters are long-dead before the novel begins and are discussed in its pages. However, their stories are just as important as those who are alive in the novel. It is easy to get confused by this book.
The novel is also very long, and unfortunately, not much happens in its pages. It’s much more of an emotional novel, about people and their relationships with one another. While that could be satisfying in itself, the entire book builds to one final, climactic scene in which an event alluded to throughout the book is revealed. Unfortunately, there are few surprises to be had once all the secrets are out and the events don’t seem that dramatic. If this book is approached as a coming of age novel with intricately drawn characters, it will be much more satisfying than if the reader is curious about the “roots of a tragedy” described in the publisher summary.
All in all, I am glad I read Unfinished Desires. It was slow at times and wasn’t necessarily what I was expecting, but Godwin’s prose was wonderful and it really was a great coming of age story. Many of the characters had personalities that leapt off the page and Godwin did a wonderful job tying everything together at the end.