The Guineveres by Sarah Domet (Contemporary Women’s Literature)
Four teenagers, each named Guinevere, end up together in a home for girls run by Catholic nuns. Abandoned by their families for various reasons, Gwen, Ginny, Win, and Vere bond as a result of their common name and do their best to cover each others’ backs as they struggle with the austere convent life. Vere narrates their story in first person, telling it as an adult twenty years later. The main theme is their united attempt to escape the convent early, rather than wait until they are released at the age of eighteen.
My experience with this book was a mixed bag. Each girl’s character was fairly well-developed, and they acted in ways consistent with their personalities. The nuns were better than the usual caricatures of nuns, and the priest was believably flawed without being criminal. At the same time, the setting itself – time and place – was never clearly defined, except for “the War” and “the War Effort” and the nuns taking in wounded, comatose soldiers, which left me guessing it was World War II era, since no war since has involved everyday citizens that way, and references to the Veterans Administration put it after 1930.
Every now and then the story stopped for a chapter told by one of the Guineveres, in the first person, about how she ended up at the convent. This format was confusing, since Vere was the only one narrating the rest of the story; if felt like those backstories should have been third person to help the reader keep it all straight and be true to the rest of the narrative. There were also random super-cheerful chapters about various female saints who joyfully endured terrible degradation and pain, usually to save their virtue. As one who grew up Catholic and read all about the saints as a kid, I found these to be highly exaggerated in their joyfulness, but wasn’t sure if that was meant to be humor or to imply that the nuns enhanced the stories for effect. I also wasn’t sure why they were there, except, perhaps, to fill out a novella into novel length.
While the book felt disjointed to me, it was still worth the read, and I believe others may find it more to their liking.
Grandma gives The Guineveres three stars.
Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.