“Stories are like that; they seek to unravel.”
The Guineveres is a haunting coming of age story told by Vere, one of four Guineveres living in a convent, being raised by nuns. These four girls aren’t the only girls there, but they are all Guineveres, and so they form an unspoken bond through their shared name.
The Guineveres hate the convent. They want nothing more than to go home. The monotony of their daily lives is interrupted when four soldiers are brought to the sick ward. The soldiers are lost to the world, frozen in comas, no one knows who they are. The Guineveres see the soldiers as they see themselves: unfortunate souls sent to the convent to be forgotten. As their name bound the girls together, their shared fate ties the soldiers to the girls.
“Maybe thats the ordinary angst of teenage girls. the desire to believe their existences are worth something.”
While Vere narrates the story, this really is a story about all four girls. Slowly, we learn of their Revival Stories, the story of what brought them to the convent. Each story is heartbreaking and painful, the choices of adults delivering the consequences to the child. Some are understandable, some are horrific, but each story defines the girl who bears it.
It doesn’t take long for the idea of these comatose soldiers to become theirs, claimed in their hearts through the will of their imaginations. While they sleep, they can be anyone, do anything. The possibility of each boy is endless.
“Happiness, girls, is a matter of where you place your attention.”
The Guineveres is beautifully written, with gorgeous sentences that perfectly capture the brevity and beauty of growing up. While The War, and The War Effort are referred to frequently in the book, there is a historical ambiguity to which actual time period this book is set in. It could be World War I, it could be World War II, it could be Vietnam, there really is no way to be sure. And that also lends to the abandonment the girls feel. Time has no meaning in the convent, since the Sisters insist “they live on God’s time”.
This idea of timelessness also resonates in the idea of waiting. The Guineveres are always waiting. Waiting until they’re 18, waiting for their boys to wake up, waiting for something to happen. The irony in this notion, is that all teenagers mark their existence through this idea. We wait to start High School, to learn how to drive, to get our license, to graduate. The sense of time moving slow and of waiting is true of all teenagers to some extent, which only makes you feel for the Guineveres even more.
As teenagers are prone to do, The Guineveres find themselves in situations both confusing and exciting. These situations shape each girl, influence who they become. Each girl, Vere included, must find her own identity and her own path, not as a Guinevere, but as herself. Which is true of all of us, and again, the idea of timelessness aligns perfectly in this concept as well.
“We all hold ideas of who we are, images of ourselves that may or may not be accurate.”
The Guineveres is a novel about a girl growing into a woman. It is an orchestra of words, rising and falling to it’s own melody. It creates a rhythm and you can’t help but be enchanted with the result. Through Vere, we relive our own tumultuous teenage angst, we rediscover why growing up can be so difficult, so hard, and so deeply painful.
“There was no commandment governing the confusion of teenage girls nor the tempest of emotions that raged inside us at that moment.”
While religion is a major aspect of the plot, this book isn’t a religious book. Religion isn’t the point. The setting could have been an orphanage or a group home, and the journey of self-discovery would have been the same. However, the setting does serve for more dramatic moments that are made more shocking and more heartbreaking because of it.
To add another layer to the rich storytelling, Domet weaves throughout the narration tales of actual Saints. Each woman described lived through their own horrors and heartbreaks, and died in pursuit of their own truth. These stories give you a sense of Vere, who she is, as she is the most devout of the group. These stories also give you a sense of the heaviness being raised in strict religious surroundings can have on a girl. How they may rebel, or fall into the fold of faith, or somewhere in between.
I was left with the desire to hug these girls, to whisper that everything will be okay someday, because I felt the tragedy of adolescence within these pages. I remember wanting to believe in things bigger than myself, and letting my imagination and heart run wilder than was wise. I recognized that teenage longing to have someone assure you that life does get better, that this suffering too ends, and that to someone you matter.
The Guineveres is a stunning debut novel that will leave it’s imprint within you. Sarah Domat brings to life these girls, letting us see deep within their souls. Without needing a time or a place to hold the plot straight, or give her story relevance or meaning, she created a book that will last. She based her story around a universal truth, that growing up is difficult no matter where you are, or who you are, or when you happen to be living. It all feels the same, though the details vary.
I really enjoyed this book. The writing is beautiful as well as the story and I look forward to seeing what novels Domet writes next.
Thank you BookSparks and Flatiron Books for sending me a copy to read for review!