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The Confessions of Frances Godwin

3.41  ·  Rating Details ·  264 Ratings  ·  66 Reviews
The Confessions of Frances Godwin is the fictional memoir of a retired high school Latin teacher looking back on a life of trying to do her best amidst transgressions—starting with her affair with Paul, whom she later marries. Now that Paul is dead and she's retired, Frances Godwin thinks her story is over—but of course the rest of her life is full of surprises, including ...more
Hardcover, 305 pages
Published July 8th 2014 by Bloomsbury USA
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switterbug (Betsey)
Jul 08, 2014 switterbug (Betsey) rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
If I were to identify a book that snuck up and bit me, this would be the one. I remember, when I read Marilynne Robinson’s GILEAD, feeling immediately that I was in the presence of a great author. With Hellenga’s novel, (and this is my first by him), I was instantly engaged, but it wasn’t until the halfway point that I realized how stunning this book was, and consequential.

Frances lives with ongoing doubt regarding her faith. She’s from a strait-laced Polish Catholic family in small-town Illinoi
Diane S ☔
Jun 09, 2014 Diane S ☔ rated it liked it
2.5 It is so hard for me to give Hellenga such a low rating, so let me explain why I did. His writing, as always is amazing. Although this is an introspective story, the character of Francis is a strong one. I also loved Tommy and all the forays into opera. What Frances does is so out of character, an event that will be a life changer and yet a fine portray at the lengths mothers will go to protect their children, grown or not. So up to this part I found the novel amazing. Their was even humor, ...more
Mar 01, 2015 Jill rated it it was amazing
For the first 150 pages, I was under this book’s thrall. It had everything I love most in literary fiction: strong characters, fluid and luminous prose, thoughtful narrative, intelligent themes and stunning descriptions of Italy for good measure.

In fact, if the book had continued in that vein, it would have quickly become one of my favorites. But then the character makes an uncharacteristic decision. It’s impossible to write about without spoilers, so here it is: YOUR SPOILER ALERT.

Frances Godwi
Carolyn Simmons
Sep 01, 2014 Carolyn Simmons rated it liked it
If I had it to do over, I would skip this book altogether. The author was too intent on letting the readers know what he knew about Latin, Romeo and Juliet, famous literary places in Europe, etc. I did a lot of skipping over parts like that.
Jul 10, 2014 Claire rated it really liked it
I received The Confessions of Frances Godwin as part of a Goodreads giveaway.

After over 40 years as a Latin teacher in small-town Illinois, Frances Godwin reflects on the life she has created for herself: the college affair that landed her college professor husband Paul, her passion for Italy (specifically Rome) that led to her career, her wayward daughter Stella and Stella's criminal, abusive husband Jimmy, and the act that altered the course of her personal and spiritual life forever. Faced wi
Karen Wyle
Aug 18, 2014 Karen Wyle rated it really liked it
I'm rounding up from about 3.5 stars.

Reading this novel, I realized how rarely I read literary fiction these days. I believe that's the niche in which this book belongs: the plot, what there is of it, flows almost entirely from the relationships between the characters. I found those characters, most importantly the POV character Frances, just interesting enough to keep me engaged until the first refreshingly unusual element in the story, which popped up a little more than halfway through and per
Jan 19, 2015 Carol rated it really liked it
Frances Godwin, a woman on the day of her retirement from teaching, pens her memoirs and the reader is taken on an absorbing, oten scholarly journey through her life, her long marriage, she and her husband's angst over their daughter, the ties that bind family and faith. Her desperate measure is examined against her lapsed faith, her love for her daughter and husband. Lots of universal lessons, truths, questions about our existence, our actions, the roads we take in life. There's a constant tens ...more
Aug 22, 2014 Annie rated it it was ok
This one started out engaging me with a unique-enough plot and characters,and some just-right humor. Suddenly, though, about three-quarters of the way through, the tone changed and the writing became long-winded and redundant -- and ultimately disappointing. (Maybe I was expecting too much from God).
Italo Italophiles
Aug 20, 2014 Italo Italophiles rated it really liked it
Frances Godwin, a fictional character, narrates her confessions, written late in life, part memoir, part mea culpa. She spends sections of her life in Italy's Florence, Rome, and Verona, and these times have a great impact on her psyche. Francis spends much of her life immersed in the Latin and Italian languages. These are the reasons I requested a review copy of this book.

The narrative style of the book is first person, ruminative, almost stream-of-consciousness. The narration is rich with deta
(Lonestarlibrarian) Keddy Ann Outlaw
If you are like me, you will be surprised and delighted by the deftness of this fictional "spiritual autobiography." When you pick up a book that begins with the retirement of a high school Latin teacher, you wouldn't think there is going to be a lot of suspense of any kind, yet this novel has plenty of that. I am going to be very vague because I don't want to create a spoiler effect, but believe me, widow Frances Godwin gets herself into deep trouble. Thus her soul is tortured. Readers will bec ...more
Jun 07, 2016 Janice rated it really liked it
I always enjoy the characters created by Robert Hellenga in his novels, and this book about the life of Frances Godwin is no exception. Frances is a retiring Latin teacher, a lover of classical music, Italy, Shakespeare, astronomy, and languages; she has a complex love-hate relationship with the Catholic Church. Frances is also a widow, having married a college professor with whom she had an affair. They had a daughter, a young woman who is perplexing to Frances, as her choices and interests are ...more
Roger Brunyate
Jun 16, 2016 Roger Brunyate rated it liked it
Shelves: religion
A Spiritual Autobiography

The "Confessions" of the title are both general and specific. General, in the sense of a tell-all autobiography looking back on a long life. Specific, in the Catholic sense of spiritual confession to a priest. Frances Godwin, retired Illinois Latin teacher and lapsed Catholic, makes two such confessions in the book, both in Rome, forty-three years apart. The first, at the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, is when she is a recent graduate, trying to get over her affair
Feb 08, 2015 Jane rated it really liked it
Hellenga teaches at my alma mater, Knox College. He uses Knox and Galesburg, Illinois as setting for much of this novel, and he honors Galesburg landmarks, including Knox College's Old Main, the site of one of the Lincoln Douglas debates. His protagonist, Frances Godwin, had she actually lived, would have been a contemporary of mine on the Knox campus, and I read the book to glean insights into the Knox of 50 years ago. Not surprisingly, I noted a few discrepancies (What! Doesn't Hellenga know t ...more
Aug 09, 2015 Daniel rated it liked it
I found this to be an easy, very pleasant read. It is less a single novel than a combination of several stories from the life of Frances Goodwin. Apart from being about the same person and occurring in the same town, the stories stand somewhat independent and do not depend on each other. I still recommend it because the wool it gathers is very entertaining. Astronomy,Latin, Italian, sports cars, the opera, music and Shakespeare are all covered and although languages are quoted the author thought ...more
Aug 13, 2014 Stacey rated it it was amazing
This is the story of building a life. First, building it with someone else, and then building it some more without them. What I love (and admire) most about Hellenga's writing is his ability to make the mundane so lyrical and magical. For crying out loud, Frances Godwin is a high school Latin teacher. Not many authors could make that so captivating a launching point in such a believable way.

Hellenga tends to write about the Midwest (and Italy) and I admit to getting a big kick out of the small
Sep 20, 2014 Hope rated it really liked it
This was marked as "Christian fiction" by my library, a fact that I didn't notice until I got the book home. That "Christian fiction" sticker on the spine made me reluctant to read this book, since my experience with that genre is less than positive. I now know this book to be mislabeled. Sharp, smartly written, and no platitudes. The only clunky spot I found was in the character development of Jimmy, a stock bad-guy character that seemed to be out of place among all the others in the book.

As I
Debra  Golden
Aug 07, 2014 Debra Golden rated it really liked it
Good and a page turner. I liked the imperfections and self questioning. Sure the conversations with "G-d" a little out there, but hey .....everyone has a right to their own interpretation and perhaps it is her interpretation and though I didn't have Latin, I like that as part of the dialogue. Her crime is a big one, but the villain was so cut and dry nasty it was easier to 'forgive.' I related more to the smaller sins and her need to vent those. The way things work out was too good to be true, b ...more
Oct 27, 2014 Judy rated it really liked it
I've been waiting for some clarity on this one. Still none so I'll just give my disparate impressions. I liked this book a lot: hurried to read it and regretted when it ended. I liked the heroine. Particularly her spunkiness. It bothered me throughout (as it often does) that this was written, and well written, from a female perspective by a male. The portrait of a small liberal arts college was congruent with my experience. A memorable line: when Frances is planning her husband's memorial servic ...more
Aug 11, 2015 Jane rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, memoir
The Confessions of Frances Godwin is set in Galesburg, Illinois. I live in Galesburg and have met Robert Hellenga, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading a book that mentioned so many places I am familiar with. I also liked visiting Italy vicariously.

I was absolutely engrossed in The Confessions of Frances Godwin for the first half of the book. My interest dropped off a bit as the narrative got more philosophical and the narrator had more conversations with God.

Frances was a great character who felt
Cook Memorial Public Library
I was immediately drawn into the story of Frances Godwin. It’s 2006 and Frances Godwin’s Latin program is being phased out and forcing her retirement from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. She chooses Do Not Resuscitate before a routine hernia surgery because she feels that her story is over. But, of course, the rest of her life is full of surprises including a desperate act that haunts her.

Each chapter features a significant event in Frances life. For example, as the novel begins, Frances i
Marie De
Oct 30, 2015 Marie De rated it liked it
I might have given this more stars if I "got it" more, and there were fewer details that seemed irrelevant. It was never clear to me if God was really speaking to Frances or if it was a hallucination, or a metaphor. The novel raises the question of whether or not there is "something out there" or if the universe is indifferent. The question was left unanswered. Not being familiar with the music and the musical theory that is so prominent both literally and metaphorically, made this a difficult r ...more
Jul 05, 2015 Geni rated it did not like it
This novel was a chore to read. While the premise had possibilities, and the voice of the protagonist reminded me of a certain high school Latin teacher of mine (so I had great hopes for a charming story), I quickly grew frustrated with the preachiness of the words expressed as the narrator's and her tedious reflections. Soon the pace of tale slowed to a crawl despite spousal abuse, murder and the main character's pluck, independence, intelligence and concern for her family.
Jan 25, 2016 Penney rated it liked it
I had mixed feelings about this novel. Kept me interested, and I liked the way the author kept the door cracked on spiritual questions. But the plot left me morally queasy. Also, the female protagonist never quite gelled for me, as I became uneasily aware that the author was a man writing from the perspective of a woman. Couldn't tell you exactly why/how that came through (I'm certainly not wedded to gender stereotypes!), but somehow it did.
Elizabeth Jones
Aug 11, 2014 Elizabeth Jones rated it really liked it
Hellenga's works are always a delight. Here a Latin teacher looks over her life in a search for meaning and seeks absolution for the wrong she has done. Her conversations with God were not off putting to me, a non-believer. The books touching upon Catholicism, theoretical physics, Roman poetry and Italian culture infuses it with both atmosphere and meaning. Another multi-layered and complex piece - thoroughly enjoyable.
Sep 04, 2014 Betty rated it it was amazing
This book was so different from any other I have read. It dealt with so many aspects of life that it was simply enthralling. How do you look back on a long, full life and reconcile the things you have done with the person you have become? Frances grew up on a farm in a very traditional Catholic family with her mother being especially devout. She goes to a nearby college and promptly has an affair with a professor. Frances travels abroad and confesses her affair and resolves to leave the professo ...more
Dec 12, 2014 Joanne rated it it was ok
This book had an engaging plot, but I found the pedantic tone just too much. It felt as if the author was more intent in showing off his Latin fluency and his knowledge of arcane facts about astronomy, music, the Catholic church, Shakespeare, etc. etc. than on building a plausible story. I found myself scanning whole passages just to move the book along. It was too much effort to make the book worthwhile.
Aug 14, 2014 Glenda rated it really liked it
Loved the poetry, music, art and food! Lots of Latin and I don't know very much Latin! Very enjoyable read. Favorite quotes that stay with me. "You're only as happy as your unhappiest child." Also, "There's more than bed to marriage." Lastly, "If what you're doing right now isn't meaningful, if won't become meaningful if you keep on doing it forever."
Jan 01, 2016 MJ rated it it was ok
Given my age, and medical condition I should have loved this book, I didn't. I found myself skimming rather than reading and not at all interested in the characters. Maybe it is all about my age and medical condition. I want escapism and educational enlightenment and or excitement. This book just didn't do it for me
Cathleen Hockman-wert
This was a random library find that I liked very much. Some great observations and questions, and several conversations with a wonderfully imagined God -- funny and kind and, dang, he just knows everything, but still can be surprised. Recommended for everyone with something to confess (and don't we all?).
Aug 04, 2014 Kate rated it really liked it
Thank you goodreads for a ARC. I enjoyed this novel and felt it captivated me, although I'm not sure I liked the conclusion. As a Catholic, I think it's hard to accept that God would start talking to a woman only to stop before she made any spiritual development. But if you're not looking for something to necessarily question your faith, the story itself is engaging.
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