Four girls who share a name and a home at the Sisters of the Supreme Adoration convent after being abandoned by their families are the focus of Sarah Domet’s debut novel. Vere, Gwen, Win and Ginny are four very different girls on the cusp of womanhood. Their shared narrative explores living in an environment that is harsh and from which they all wish to flee.
The Guineveres are desperate for an escape and yearn for the day that they turn 18 and can leave the convent – unless by some miracle they are able to leave before then. Set in an unnamed town and during an unnamed time period, the book’s exploration of love, loss, adolescence and memory is perceptive.
Comparisons to Jefferey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides is inevitable but the length and often dragging pace of The Guineveres will make it less popular with readers. The book opens with a failed escape from the convent which sentences The Guineveres to work in the convent’s sick ward where five unidentified soldiers lie in a coma. Seeing a chance for purpose, escape and breaking into the “real world”, the girls see this is a divine opening and each claims a soldier as as her own.
There are certain passages in the book in which Domet’s prose shines and pierces through the heart of the adolescent girl in all of us. Furthermore, there is a familiarity found in the desperate yearning for faith while being confused about some of its tenants and followers. The account is written with the view of hindsight and is mostly penned by the character Vere who has a desperate need to believe in God, her purpose, home and love. She explores many questions, her suffering and her past and observes “Maybe that’s just what nostalgia is: a willingness to embrace the pain of the past.”
While The Virgin Suicides and the Turkish film Mustang deal with themes of longing, adolescence, religion, and sexuality, their protagonists are sisters which makes for a specific kind of dynamic between the young women. While The Guineveres are technically orphans, their friendship is best described as hyper-dependent which often leads to damaging results yet at the same time is testament to Vere’s insight that “No one can ever know you like those with whom you’ve shared the pangs of your youth.”
The Guineveres didn’t grip me as much as I thought it would, but the last 90 pages or so made me glad that I stuck with it and continued on to the end.