book review: FATES & FURIES by Lauren Groff

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. 

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.

best bits

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.

worst bits

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:

Wholehearted.

 

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4 comments

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  1. Ruth Cobb

    Where do I start???

    This book provided me with so many emotions…  Frustration, annoyance, disbelief, empathy, confusion and relief to name a few.

    Before starting this epic read I would say.. I can read anything. Well this book proved me wrong. Yes I finished it but it was a hard slog! It took forever. I had no motivation to finish it apart from the pressure I’d spent £4.99 on it and the fact I felt compelled being a member of the book club I needed to finish it. Usually if I was to spend that kind of money on a book it’s with an author I enjoy reading.

    I was frustrated as I kept having to go back several lines to see if I’d missed bits but annoyingly I hadn’t, it was just the way it was written.

    I found the storyline confusing and still don’t get the whole point of the story. There seemed in both parts a brief beginning, very long middle and swift end. Yes, the second half was an easier read but still not all that enjoyable.

    I can’t specifically say I enjoyed any part of this book and I was relieved when I had finished it. It means I can find another book to read.

    Mathilde’s story was very sad – how can parents just give you up?!? Was this was the start of her self destruction? Lotto – his story was sad in a different way but realistically were they both were drawn together because of the feelings of rejection from their parents. I felt empathy for both Lotto and Mathilde but I still did not enjoy this book. It was disjointed and disappointing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Where I Write

      Hi Ruth, thanks for your honesty! I expect it was good for your character at least to persevere through it?! Ha. Did you feel any benefit in reading a book you didn’t enjoy any aspect of? You don’t have to have, I’m just curious.

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  2. Lucy

    The book was an average read. I struggled to get through it and it’s not what I’m used to reading, it wasn’t a gripping book and some parts were too graphic for me. But it did make me think how sad it is to let unforgiveness and pride dominate and lead to a son and mother dying without reconnecting fully. The second section by Mathilde kept me captivated a bit more when it started to divulge the secrets in their marriage, but it was upsetting to hear about her past and how this informed her future decisions, such as the sterilisation.

    Although they clearly loved each other, it seemed like their relationship lacked depth because of all these areas they didn’t share with each other. I suppose I’d view marriage differently, each really sharing lives together and who they are as a person, it seemed a shame that Mathilde still could not fully be herself or work through her past even with the only person she’d truly love and be close to. However the extent of what she went through is no wonder, and the reality of some people’s lives hit me.

    I suppose what I’ve personally thought about most after reading the book is how I can communicate better with my husband and cultivate a marriage where he truly is my best friend, confidant and someone who I can be myself with, in doing so, bring out the best in us both.

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  3. Where I Write

    That’s great Lucy, I love what you have concluded that you should do with regards to your marriage as a result of reading it. You’re right about how pride can really destroy relationships. A very valuable lesson and I hadn’t thought of that myself when pondering the novel. You say you’d view marriage differently, how do you think they viewed it? What was the purpose of marriage in their eyes, do you think?

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