Fates and Furies Synopsis:
Every story has two sides.
Every relationship has two perspectives.
And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets.
At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but behind closed doors things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed.
(Random House UK, Windmill Books)
I’m not typically drawn to ‘domestic drama’ but Lauren Groff’s literary credentials and this novel’s dual narrative framework piqued my interest pre-release. Since Fates and Furies then went on to be named among the Best Books of 2015 by the likes of Amazon, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal and many more, I’ll admit to being keen to see what all the fuss was about.
Fates and Furies is epic in both scope and ambition. While described as a story of a marriage, it really is much broader than that – it is a story about lives, the myriad choices made throughout them and their cascading impacts.
Creativity and artistic pursuits feature large in the story, as do enigmatic characters exhibiting varying degrees of self-awareness – from the narcissistic Lotto to the chameleon-like Mathilde.
Look at them together. The height of them, the shine on them. Her pale and wounded face, a face that had watched and never smiled now never stopped smiling. It was as if she’d lived all her life in the chilly shadows and someone had led her out into the sun. And look at him. All his restless energy focussed tightly on her. She sharpened something that threatened to go diffuse in him.
Thematically Fates and Furies explores the extent to which people are actors in their own lives, and whether they are in lead or supporting roles. Front and centre is the art of deception, ignorance and self-sacrifice, and its ostensible motivations. Can deception, whether by lie or omission, ever be a truly self-less act?
There is so much going on in this novel, so much cleverness – some sign-posted, other elements more subtle. From wordplay, to striking metaphor… literary, theatrical and mythological references abound. While I consider myself an attentive reader, I’ve still come away feeling there will inevitably be meaning that’s slipped past me.
Groff’s prose is for the most part beguiling, and aptly described by Robin Black in the New York Times as a ‘linguistically pyrotechnic narrative‘. But just as Groff pushes the envelope with her characters, the line between lyricism and literary decadence is crossed at times. As with many aspects of this novel though, it could be argued that such excess was intentional, designed to magnify the impact of Groff’s selective and striking lucidity.
Oh, Lotto, Mathilde thought with loving despair. Like most deadly attractive people, he had a hollow at the centre of him. What people loved most about her husband was how mellifluous their own voices sounded when they echoed back.
The risk with, and I dare say weakness of this novel’s construct is the length of time readers must initially spend with Lotto’s less engaging narrative before switching to Mathilde’s. While Mathilde’s perspective is certainly a worthy payoff… the length of the drum roll could have been shortened.
After being impressed by so much within Fates and Furies, at its conclusion I was left with a small but lingering feeling of disappointment… but it took me a few days reflection to pin point its origin. Much has been said about feminist rage in the context of this and several other bestselling fiction titles recently. Like most characters in this novel, Mathilde (and her actions) are not wholly likeable. The extent to which her survival instincts and powers of enablement take on a darker hue yields a very memorable story, but not quite the positive strain of empowerment and sense of fulfilment I had hoped for.
Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies is an immersive reading experience but one I’d only recommend for those with literary inclinations.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5
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Genre: Drama, Mystery, Romance, Literature
About the Author, Lauren Groff
Lauren Groff is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel The Monsters of Templeton, the short story collection Delicate Edible Birds and Arcadia. She has won Pushcart and PEN/O. Henry prizes and has been shortlisted for the Orange Award for New Writers. Her stories have appeared in publications including The New Yorker, the Atlantic, One Story, and Ploughshares, and have been anthologised in Best American Short Stories 2007 and 2010, and Best New American Voices 2008. She lives in Gainesville, Florida, with her husband and two sons. Fates and Furies was nominated for a National Book Award and many notable names such as Barrack Obama named it their Best Book of 2015.
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* My receiving a copy of Fates and Furies from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.