Synopsis from publisher:
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 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 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 schools matriarch, Mother Suzanne Ravenel.
Fifty years on, the headmistress relives one pivotal night, trying to reconcile past and present, reaching back even further to her own senior year at the school, where the roots of a tragedy are buried.
This is the first novel I've read by Godwin, after hearing many good things, and I don't think it will be my last. I was originally captured by the combination of private school + religious order, which usually result in good things for me. Then I noticed the author, and remembered I'd wanted to try something of hers out, so then couldn't resist.
I can't say that the plot itself was what kept me reading - I could sense the general direction by about 1/4 of the way through, and wasn't much surprised by how everything wrapped up. It seemed that there was a LOT going on, which was perhaps part of the problem - lots of events seemed promising, but were never quite fleshed out as much as I would have liked. I think subtracting just a couple of the storylines might have improved the pacing and kept me guessing a bit more.
But the characters - wow, this lady can write some interesting women. They all just felt juicy, and even though she used many traditional stereotypes, she invested them with an energy and strength that made then continually exceed my expectations. I've been thinking for two days now which was my favorite, and each time I think I've chosen, another pushes herself into my mind and makes me rethink my decision. I feel like I wish I could have known these women - they feel like real people I am sorry I have to leave.
If this novel didn't have such strong characters, I would probably forget I read it by next Wednesday. But Tildy, and Madeline, and Chloe, and Mother Ravenal, and the other women of this novel are going to be with me for a good long time. If this is the kind of book you enjoy, don't miss this one!
Source: South Side library
MPAA rating: PG-13 for domestic violence and sexual situations
My rating: 7/10