This novel was a… I’m not entirely sure of which words to land on. Interesting, difficult, compelling, repulsive, heartwarming, heartbreaking, bleak, beautifully written, hard to read.
All of them combined sums up the impressive feat that is Fates and Furies.
I gauged that a lot of what-we-readers found this book difficult. I’m not sure if a single one of them will say they liked it. Regarding my own impressions, I have to say – what a reading experience it was. It made me think and feel as it poked and prodded at my shallow understanding of the complexities of people and relationships.
Fates and Furies is split into two parts. ‘Fates’ focuses on Lotto (the husband) and ‘Furies’ focuses on Mathilde (the wife). The whole book is a study of their marriage and the narration does imply a study due to the extra commentary in brackets that enlightens you to events or thoughts and feelings the characters do not know of or have hidden. It is a fascinating experience to feel as though you are observing their relationship – a real, living and breathing entity. You’re not just getting swept up in a story and a world that you feel part of and then get to the end and feel bereft and disappointed the fantasy is over (or relieved). You’re watching them.
The writing itself was striking. Every sentence felt constructed in a way that left it pregnant with meaning and was an impact on your senses. A simple example of this is the following from page 136:
“She said nothing, eloquently.”
This kind of oxymoron would make anyone who has ever been in a long-term relationship smile as they recognise that silence can communicate just as much words at times. It can be the most infuriating form of communication as it most often infers displeasure with a punitive intention.
I appreciated the writer’s take on grief. Some stunning descriptions cut to the core as I recognised what was being depicted in a unique way.
“It comes over us that we shall never again hear the laughter of our friend, that this garden is forever locked against us. And at that moment begins our true grief.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery said this. He, too, had found himself crashed into the desert when, just moments before, all had been open sky.
Where are the people? said Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince. It’s a little lonely in the desert …
It’s lonely when you’re among people, too, said the snake.” page 212
Where to start with that? Crashed in the desert… some say hit by a train… such striking and true metaphors for what it feels like when tragedy and death strikes.
But not only that, the last line is intensely loaded and could leave you pondering it for a while. Hence why this was almost an exhausting read – so much to digest, like eating an undercooked beef stew; you could spend ages chewing over just one piece of it.
There was a lot of sex and almost all of the characters were grotesque in some way shape or form. It was an uncomfortable read at times and though I would still place this in the ‘Worst bits’ category, allow me to also say this:
Sometimes uncomfortable reads are important.
Unless you do tend to stick entirely to light-hearted romances (not decrying that genre), you will have read some books that were sad/scary/disturbing/tragic. Sometimes this would have been purely in the name of entertainment. Other times, a story is being told about an injustice or an immoral choice that can impact us positively going forward. We learn from the stories and experiences of others to hopefully better shape the world we live in.
Reading this uncomfortable book made me reflect on many things relating to family life and how I do and don’t want things to be.
what I learned about the world
Let’s just say it is obvious that the author is ambivalent about marriage.
“Somehow, despite her politics and smarts, she had become a wife, and wives, as we all know, are invisible. The midnight elves of marriage. The house in the country, the apartment in the city, the taxes, the dog, all were her concern: he had no idea what she did with her time.” page 244
What I learned was this: we have a long way to go regarding equality and valuing motherhood. Lotto is presented as a misogynist who thinks the world revolves around him, the ‘creative genius’ of the family. But yet in the background Mathilde is secretly editing his writing and kicking ass when the people in his plays aren’t cutting it. When things go well he basks in his own glory, when they go wrong or he gets one bad review amongst many good, a cloud of depression sinks over him. It’s as if she is there to prop him up all the way through life.
The curious thing is why Mathilde does these things in secret. Why doesn’t she tell him to get over himself? Well, her story enlightens us when we realise the loveless background she comes from. She is afraid to truly be herself and live not just to please him because she may lose the only experience of ‘home’ she has ever had. She will also destroy his fairytale that she had been kept for him (a whole other topic), that she was innocent, and that she was for him entirely in purpose.
Yet there is love between them. They are truly captivated by each other and seem to have a deep-rooted adoration and companionship. They just can’t bring themselves to be entirely vulnerable and honest. There is too much risk. Too much pride.
Mathilde refers to a woman she meets as a “breeder”, as if there are two types of women. Those who reproduce and those who don’t. It suggests that the societal view of motherhood as being defining for women has caused a sort of rift in the way women relate to one another. Creative genius is the ultimate and if you become a mother, according to Lotto, you’ve no time to be one. If you don’t become a mother, who cares if you are a creative genius because people will always wonder why you didn’t become a mother. What’s a woman to do?
Ultimately though, the book speaks to me of both genders perpetuating this messed-up state of affairs. A mother pays a girl to hide a pregnancy and give the baby up for adoption, all so her son can fulfil his potential whilst he still goes around boinking any girl that blinks in his direction.
what impacted me
“Paradox of marriage: you can never know someone entirely; you do know someone entirely.” page 202
Following on from my recent post about vulnerability, this quote really struck me. Yes, there were secrets kept in Lotto and Mathilde’s marriage. There were resentments and frustrations that were never shared and worked through. You might say, a dose of couples counselling to tell them they should be doing this and that would have set them straight. I know my partner/spouse and they know me. We have no secrets and that was their downfall.
But the fact is, you can never fully and entirely know a person. You may know how they organise their sock drawer and their technique for opening an envelope. Yet you cannot know exactly how their (and your) life will unfold and how they will react in every circumstance. They probably don’t know that either.
This is why marriage is such a huge risk because the only way it works is to fully anticipate disappointment. To expect it and therefore make yourself completely vulnerable to it and the cost of their mistakes and shortcomings, because there is a cost. And yet still love whatever, share how you feel, and embrace forgiveness (though I am not suggesting tolerating any form of abuse).
That’s what you’re signing up for, “for better, for worse”.
We miss that part sometimes.
But if you live like that, like the wholehearted, who see beauty in vulnerability and recognise that our ultimate purpose is to connect, you can be just that: