Gail Godwin's Unfinished Desires is, well, unfinished. The novel expertly evokes a sense of time and place, as it delves into the lives and drama of Mount St. Gabriel's, a Catholic girls' school; yet, the story fails to follow through on its promise. The novel begins with Sister Suzanne, a graduate of Mount St. Gabriel's and former head mistress, creating her memoirs that will double as a history of the school. As her story unfolds, the reader becomes hooked by the mystery surrounding the class of 1951. In order to tell the tale more intimately, Godwin tri-sects the novel, allowing us to follow Suzanne in current time, Suzanne as a student, and Suzanne as head-mistress in 1951. The plot incorporates a panoply of characters, most of whom are (confusingly) related, and the story marches towards the conclusion…which occurs with nary a whimper.
Perhaps, though, this novel shouldn’t be read for the plot development but for the brilliant job it does in capturing the evolution of girls’ friendships and power-struggles against the backdrop of a Catholic school. In this, Unfinished Desires is quite successful, but do not expect to be thrilled by the anti-climactic resolution of this largely lukewarm novel.