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Unfinished Desires

3.14  ·  Rating details ·  1,523 ratings  ·  331 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
Hardcover, 396 pages
Published January 5th 2010 by Random House
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Average rating 3.14  · 
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 ·  1,523 ratings  ·  331 reviews

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Jeanette (Again)
Aug 07, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: all-fiction, america
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
Linda C
Jul 20, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: hated
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
switterbug (Betsey)
Feb 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Jan 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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Jan 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 06, 2013 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Jan 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
Gail Godwins 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 Girls 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 schools history (a lot of nuns, girls, and parents). Only we dont get the story chronologically, but instead Godwin builds up a little momentum settling with one time period and ...more
Nov 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Aug 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
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, ...more
Dec 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Aug 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 06, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
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 ...more
Apr 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
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 ...more
Sharon Stockham
Jun 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Aug 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009
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 ...more
Jan 30, 2010 rated it it was ok
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.
Aug 25, 2009 rated it it was ok
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.
Heather Middlebrooks
Jul 12, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: southern
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.
Elyse Rudin
Mar 06, 2012 rated it did not like it
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.
📚Linda Blake
Dec 05, 2009 rated it it was ok
Boring.... I tried. I really tried, but just couldn't finish it. Maybe I've just had too much of the "mean girls" mentality.
Dec 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
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.
Jun 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.
Feb 12, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, 2017
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
Laura Spira
Dec 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Grecia Ramirez
Aug 13, 2019 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Linda Frances
Jan 09, 2019 rated it liked it
I've read most of Gail Godwin's novels, but somehow I had missed this one. I tend to like her earlier work more than the later, and this isn't one of my favorites. At around 400 pages, it was a bit overlong. I was more interested in the characters than their religion, so I admit I skimmed over the prayers and passages about church doctrine. The characters were well developed, but I didn't find any of them very likable.
Mary Blye Kramer
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
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.
Amy Turner
Feb 07, 2020 rated it liked it
I enjoyed the setting of this book. For me reading about a Catholic girls' school is a bit like reading science fiction--un unfamiliar world. But I prefer books that focus on fewer characters, and parts of this one dragged for me.
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Gail Kathleen Godwin is an American novelist and short story writer. She has published one non-fiction work, two collections of short stories, and eleven novels, three of which have been nominated for the National Book Award and five of which have made the New York Times Bestseller List.

Godwin's body of work has garnered many honors, including three National Book Award nominations, a Guggenheim

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