Best Book Club Ever: Unfinished Desires, by Gail Godwin

Our April book club selection was Unfinished Desires by Gail Godwin.

Unfinished Desires: A Novel

Our book club unanimously agreed “Patience and Faith” was the essence of Unfinished Desires.

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. (Goodreads)

All of my book club friends except one were brought up Catholics. We each attended a Catholic grade school. Three of us went to same school! We found it very easy to discuss this book possibly because of our Catholic upbringing.  One of the messages found in Unfinished Desires such as prayers and meditation illustrates how God protects us and cares for us.  The significance of inner calm to trust the world through prayers and meditation was of great importance.  The message of “God’s will” was so well done in the book.  “What did you love most? What have you left undone?” This quote was a key idea which we discussed. It was very thought provoking for all of us. We felt each and every one of us could answer it differently.

Keep a score card to all of the characters and their stories! Mother Suzanne Ravenel recounts the history behind Mount St. Gabriel’s and her years as a student there.  During the early 1950’s, now head mistress, Mother Ravenel, also relives one pivotal night, trying to reconcile the past and the present. 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 of the 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. She reaches back even further to her own senior year at the school, where the roots of a tragedy are buried. The last half of the book fills in the gaps that you wonder about in the first part of the story. There is much foreshadowing in the book! The crux of the story was we all make our own judgments’.

We thought Tildy, to compensate for her trouble with reading; she had to say, “I’m smart,” by manipulating other girls. Some girls are just natural born leaders which Tildy was.  This led our discussion towards looking back at our own high school days. We talked about “those who shall remain nameless,” the girls who were leaders in good ways and those girls who were leaders in bad ways. Unfinished Desires nailed the adolescent angst on the head!  There is one part in the book with Tildy and Chloe. Chloe is drawing a portrait for the bulletin board of the entire class. Chloe drew all of the girls as she saw them – the importance of each one of them.  Tildy just pointed out the flaws of each and every girl to Chloe.  Tildy explained some of the girls were “the backdrop” meaning they were very important girls.  We all agreed Tildy was exactly like her mother, Cornelia!

Another quote we discussed in depth was: “Scrape the cauldron for more evil snacks” which meant to us, go as low as you could go and find the dirt on others.

All I could picture in my head each time Mother Ravenal spoke was Rosalind Russell when she played, in the movie, The Trouble with Angels, also starring Haley Mills! A couple others thought Mother Ravenal reminded them of Meryl Streep.

 Mother Ravenal’s wise saying at the end of every “Moral Guidance for Modern Girls” lecture: “Remember, girls: you are a work in progress!”   Aren’t we all?!

Consider, Unfinished Desires, by Gail Godwin next for your book club!

Happy Reading!


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