Lately, I’ve been staying away from more serious, literary fiction. When it’s ninety degrees outside, my brain is just not in a good place to process serious books. But when fall finally rolls around, I love jumping into deeper books. Sarah Domet’s debut novel, The Guineveres is one of those perfect fall reads, to be enjoyed on chilly afternoons over cups of tea.
(From Goodreads) Vere, Gwen, Ginny, and Win come to The Sisters of the Supreme Adoration by different paths, delivered into the rigorous and austere care of Sister Fran. Each has their own complicated, heartbreaking story that they safeguard. But together they are the all powerful and confident The Guineveres, bound by the extraordinary coincidence of their names and girded against the indignities of their plain, sequestered lives. Together, they learn about God, history, and, despite the nuns’ protestations, sex. They learn about the saints whose revival stories of faith and pain are threaded through their own. But above all, they plot their futures, when they can leave the convent and finally find a true home. But when four comatose soldiers, casualties of the War looming outside, arrive at the convent, The Guineveres’ friendship is tested in ways they never could have foreseen.
The Guineveres was a very slow read for me. It took me almost a month to get through it. It’s just not the type of book that you can read in a single sitting, it takes time to digest what’s going on. The mystery of why each of the Guineveres ended up in the convent kept me reading. I was curious about what led them there, because their personalities are so different. I found it interesting that they were united by their name, despite a lack of commonalities, because that’s definitely something I could relate to (I definitely felt a connection with the other Stephanies in elementary and high school). Overall, a really interesting premise, and something I haven’t really seen before.
The characters themselves were interesting. I enjoyed how different they were; the Guineveres seemed to balance each other in different ways. However, despite their nicknames, I did have trouble telling them apart occasionally. Gwen was the most distinct, being the most rebellious. And Vere was distinguished by being the main narrator, but I lost track of Ginny and Win a lot. Instead of being separate in my mind, they kind of blurred together, which made it difficult to connect. I also think this was a slow read for me because Vere was arguably the most boring of the Guineveres. I did enjoy getting an outside perspective on Gwen – I think a story narrated from her perspective might have been too much – and Vere provided insights the other girls might not have, but it was a bit bland, and I had a hard time getting excited about the story.
I was a bit wary going into this book, because I went to Catholic school for twelve years, and reliving that experience through books or movies is not something I usually enjoy. However, I think The Guineveres was very relatable and seemed real. The girls’ small rebellions weren’t over the top, and the nuns weren’t entirely unreasonable, which seem to be some tropes in fictional Catholic school environments. I was very impressed by how well Domet created the setting of her debut novel.
Having attended Catholic school for almost half of my life, I’ve read a lot about the saints. So when I saw that there are short chapters in this book discussing the lives of certain saints, I was pretty sure I’d end up skipping over most of them. But, surprisingly, these were some of my favorite parts of the book. Domet writes beautifully, and I really enjoyed how each saint she chose subtly related to the Guineveres and what they were experiencing or who they were.
Like I said, this was a very slow read. But, overall, I really enjoyed the story, and thought it was a fresh take on the traditional coming-of-age novel. It’s being marketed as “in the vein of The Virgin Suicides,” which I haven’t read, but if you enjoy Jeffrey Eugenedes, you might want to pick up The Guineveres. I’d recommend it for fans of literary fiction. While I wouldn’t say it is inappropriate for a young adult audience, it does read very much like an adult novel.
The Guineveres will be available starting tomorrow, October 4th . If you’re interested, you can order (or preorder) here. If you do end up reading it, be sure to come back and share your thoughts – I’d love to hear them!
P.S. Isn’t that cover design amazing? For some reason, when I got my copy in the mail, I thought it was some sort of weird fire until I took a picture for Instagram and saw it on a smaller scale. I love the symbolism of the four different colors braided together!
This book was provided to me by Flatiron Books in exchange for my unbiased review.