Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Published by Riverhead Books
Publication date: September 15th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Literary
Your Local Book Store, Amazon
Hello, dear Reader! It’s Monday and I know for a lot of you it’s a busy day, getting back into the weekly grind, so if you’re on the run and don’t have time for a full review, here’s what you need to know: read Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies. If you’re a metrics kind of person I’ll make it even easier—I give it 5 stars. Now go. Go and buy it, check it out at the library, whatever you need to do and get back to work, the kids, the exercise bike. If you have the time, settle in and I’ll tell you all about this astonishing book.
You could say it’s the story of a marriage but that’s like saying World War II was a disagreement. A lot of fiction is about marriage, which means to make it memorable you’re going to have to turn it on its head and shake it hard, both of which Groff does. The novel is neatly bisected between Lancelot (aka Lotto), the husband, in the Fates chapters and the wife, Mathilde, in the Furies. By the end of Lotto’s life I was questioning whether I would manage 3 stars for this book, because while he achieved professional success Lotto himself is not a character who held my interest. He is a creative alpha male and everything had to circle around him. Grand, golden, glorious—gracious in the giving but always taking. A man who could never be filled with enough praise or attention from others and yet, from the moment he saw Mathilde at a college party she was enough. He had many a weakness that charismatic men have but throughout their marriage there was never a moment when he strayed or when he even contemplated leaving her. She was the prize. In an essential way she eased the emptiness inside him.
No, Groff does not take the easy route by making Fates and Furies a novel of marital betrayal. It’s something much deeper, enough to make adultery seem an aside, nothing worthy of much attention. Because where Lotto is all surface and shine, Mathilde is deep and still. She is, at once, everything Lotto believes her to be, and not. Her childhood, her teen years, her origins, none of them are as he knows them for she has buried it all, figuratively and literally. And like the much-vaunted phoenix she has risen from the ashes as the ultimate helpmeet. She too, is golden but her blonde is the icy cool of Nordic waters, sleek and mirror-like. Lotto sees nothing more in her than his best self reflected back at him. She has no other aspirations than to be his muse, to take care of anything in their life that takes away from his art. There are times early in their marriage when the veneer of her calm and abiding nature cracks and Lotto sees that
Mathilde was never unkind but she wore her passive aggression like a second skin.
Beyond that, Mathilde subsumes herself to her husband. But, in so far as she rescues him, he rescues her and that is the foundation upon which their marriage firmly rests. If it is true that
Great swaths of her life were white space to her husband. What she did not tell him balanced neatly with what she did. Still, there are untruths made of words and untruths made of silences, and Mathilde had only ever lied to Lotto in what she never said.
then that is only what is necessary for a marriage that lasted decades, until death do us part.
Groff’s achievement in this book is stunning. The center of Fates and Furies is a marriage but it is in exploring what lies outside that center, outside the bonds of matrimony and inside the eye of the beholder, that Groff’s prose simultaneously reveals and obscures. Fates and Furies is a literary dance of the seven veils and Groff is the brilliant, cunning Salome who holds us in thrall; as drunk on her incandescent prose as Herod was on the glimpses of the young Salome’s flesh. And, in the same way Salome extracts a terrible price for her dance, so Groff strips away the conventional beliefs about knowing everything about those we love and leaves us with the bargains, obfuscations, and shadows of the truth, all employed in the name of love.
tanya (52 books or bust) says
When I hear that a novel is about a marriage i tend to think BORING. But you, and several others, have convinced me to give this a try. 5 stars is nothing to sneeze at.
Would love for you to read it and hear what you think. For some, the slower first half was not compensated by a brilliant second half. For me, even though the husband was meh the writing was always stellar.
Shannon @ River City Reading says
So desperate to pick this up and can’t wait for my copy to come in at the library! Wonderful review!
Sarah's Book Shelves says
I see you settled on 5 stars! Great review…you captured it perfectly! And I love that quote you shared about “great swaths of her life…”. My review will go up most either tomorrow or Weds.
Sarah- it was tough and I probably should say 4.5 because as we both thought- the beginning is really slow but somehow I got so swept away I give Groff credit for being to pull off such an accomplishment. If that makes sense.
Can’t wait to read your review!
Jennine G. says
Buried it all figuratively and literally?! Oh that sounds interesting. It’s always good to hear that an author took a topic deeper than the typical expectations of the give subject.
Oh, it’s much deeper! Kind of like Gone Girl but literary and not so violent- more psychological and, as weird as it sounds, tender.
This sounds sooo goood. Groff is a stunning writer, though so far I’ve favored her short stories. Great review, Catherine!
Marisa @ The Daily Dosage says
Catherine, this review is what I aspire to write when it comes to reviews. You are brilliant and you capture the essence of the book and I haven’t even read it . But just from this review I KNOW exactly how I will feel about it and can’t wait for my hold to come in at the library. Very well done.
Damn it, Marisa, you’ve made me teary, with such high praise coming from a reviewer I respect and turn to for my reading recommendations. Thank you thank you thank you.
This review is stunning! I already had this book on my list because I have heard amazing things but this review takes the cake. I kind of want to run out right this minute and buy it.
Thank you! You should definitely read it and let me know what you think. we may also be discussing it at The Socratic Salon because it has so many interesting themes.
I was so curious (and happy) to see you ended up giving this 5 stars after I saw you were questioning it mid-read. I didn’t think this was “my kind of book,” but had been revisiting that and it was on the wish list. Then I read your mid-read thoughts and said “Aha! I was right to think it wasn’t for me.” And now I have to rethink again. All of which tells me this is a book I have to read. Thanks for writing this up and making me keep thinking!
Lynn @ Smoke & Mirrors says
I agree with others’ opinions of this review. So very well written. I believe you have conveyed the essence of this book without actually giving away any spoilers. That can be difficult, but you accomplished it so very well! This is definitely on my list!
Lynn @ Smoke & Mirrors says
And, unfortunately, I was unimpressed overall with this one. (Perhaps that makes us close to even with your dislike of Water for Elephants! :)) While I could appreciate the realistic characters, her execution left me close to disinterested. Even in the second part I still felt a bit disconnected. Her writing just did not draw me in at all. I did, however, quite enjoy At the Water’s Edge! 🙂 Glad everyone else liked this much more than I did!