The Guineveres by Sarah Domet
It has been a good season for new books. It seems like I have had an overabundance of really good reads–lucky me! The Guineveres is another one of those really good reads, though I must say, it is nothing like the novel I expected to read. I thought four friends would get together and reminisce about their past together, from a place of much more fortunate circumstances. They do reminisce: this book is ultimately a letter to another Guinevere.
Sarah Domet’s debut novel is about 4 girls named Guinevere who all end up at the orphanage of a convent called the Sisters of the Supreme Adoration. They are delivered by their parents for various reasons. They become a subset, and then friends. Initially drawn together because of the name they share, they stay together to watch out for each other, and because they don’t fit the other groups of girls. It is wartime, and the Sisters also have a convalescent hospital, taking in older people and soldiers. When the girls are punished and must make restitution through service, they are sent to help the nurses. They each begin to care for a wounded soldier in a coma, believing that by caring for them, when the soldiers eventually wake up, they will marry the Guineveres and that will be their ticket out.
Interspersed are short stories about the lives of female saints that help explain The Guineveres. These stories are key to making the book work, and to explaining the humanity of each of the characters. Domet also periodically shares how each girl came to arrive at the convent, so that by the time each girl leaves, you know her story.
This novel crept up on me…perhaps a little slow to start but nonetheless not a book I could put down by the time I reached page 50. (Note: page 50 is my yea or nay point. Life is short; read good books. If it doesn’t have me by 50, it doesn’t have me.) Once engaged, the characters remained with me over the days I read, and even after. This is a pensive book, but one with some lines that sum up and express universal truths, and I think that is what most stays with me. Domet succeeds at telling a compelling story but even more so at articulating themes of suffering, sacrifice, loss and redemption beautifully and meaningfully. Highly recommended!