Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Delicate Edible BirdsIt feels like I have been watching Lauren Groff from the sidelines for a long time. One of my favourite bloggers Cassie*, wrote a passionate review about Groff’s book of short stories Delicate, Edible Birds which she gave the byline Dear Lauren Groff, I’m Obsessed With You – I loved her review and her twenty-something passion and thought I must read it.

Monsters TempletonI even took her novel The Monsters of Templeton out from the library, yes, they had a copy on the few English shelves of the French library, it sounded like a fun read, sort of Lochness monster-ish – however I didn’t get around to reading, I returned it and I visit it often when I get the inclination to go to the library, not because I need any more books, but because it’s one of the best places to view books – you know like shoppers go window shopping – book nerds visit libraries and book shops just to be around them, without always needing to consume.

ArcadiaThen there was Arcadia, I have it on kindle and have been meaning to read that too – a hippy story from the 1960’s – that too languishes unread.

And finally Fates and Furies comes along and I think, maybe this time, I’ll read this one, it sounds interesting, look here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

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 the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.

But I’m suspicious, Cassie hasn’t read it, or if she has, she’s resting silent on the subject of Fates and Furies. So then President Obama goes and reads it. And tells everyone it’s his book of the year. Ok, it’s going to become a bestseller, I’ll read it. I will. So I do.

Fates and Furies

TheFates and Furies first half is about Lotto (nickname for Lancelot), a man cruising through life without looking back, the very few times he does, he realises how alone he really is. It is not a pleasant feeling, it is one he wishes to drown in whatever is to hand – in his boarding school that feeling nearly did kill him, but then he discovered girls, a never-ending supply of them, that worked – then he met Mathilde and she provoked in him such a strong feeling, he made her his wife, she was all the girl he wanted and needed and she appeared to need him as much as he needed her. She was hungry for him too.

He never acknowledges his own role in creating the circumstance that lead to his isolation, his mother in order to keep him out of trouble, after a serious incident in his early teens to do with a girl and a fire, sends him away to school. It’s a separation that will endure, for Lotto will never return, nor will he make any gesture or voice any words whatsoever towards his mother.

School is not good, as he lurches from suicidal to promiscuous to married at 22-years-old and pursuing a struggling acting career which morphs with Mathilde’s help into writing plays for theatre. Mathilde supports him, seemingly without complaint, he refers to her often physically, narrating his life as series of sexual encounters with his wife.

After all the parties, making up for his lack of professional success, he becomes absorbed by his writing and develops an obsession for a young musician, a turning point in the relationship between he and his wife.

And so to Furies, in which we encounter Mathilde and discover that this marriage seen through the lens of the wife, is something quite different, naturally she has had a different upbringing, raised in the north of France and separated from her family at a young age due to an unforgiveable act.

Mathilde eventually comes to America and lives under circumstances that ensure she must be damaged mentally, no one could live what she did without being affected by it, she learns at a young age to conceal her reactions and emotions.

Ultimately, the novel illustrates the secrets and lies and deceptions of marriage or of any relationship, the fact that as humans, we guard certain things about ourselves and we never truly know each other, or what each other is thinking, not just because of this propensity to conceal, but due to varying degrees of narcissism. Sigmund Freud believed that some narcissism is an essential part of all of us from birth, while Andrew Morrison claims that a reasonable amount of healthy narcissism allows the individual’s perception of their needs to be balanced in relation to others. So we all have it!

I enjoyed the first half because I started to imagine the big surprise we were going to get when we got inside Mathilde’s story. I didn’t care much for the character of Lotto, he wasn’t a creation that I could relate to, though I was easily able to put that aside, in anticipation of what was to come.

It’s a novel of marriage, but it’s no Anne Tyler, it’s not realism, they’re the stories of two characters, whose lives are far-fetched, and when they intersect, are used to illustrate a number of points. Unfortunately, I kind of lost interest in Mathilde’s story which drew me away from the kind of reflection I was imagining. It’s a book in which readers fall into two diametrically opposed camps.

Quite honestly, I don’t know what it was telling us, maybe something about the randomness or otherwise of who we hook up with, the dependency that develops. I just wish the characters had been a little more ordinary.

Barack Obama wasn’t the only one sharing his favourite read of 2015, his wife Michelle Obama The Lightalso chose a book about marriage, one I think might be more my cup of tea, it was the poet Elizabeth Alexander’s memoir The Light of the World, a woman writing about being at the existential crossroads after the death of her husband.

There is a short book/analysis of Fates and Furies written by BookaDay in which it is said:

Fates and Furies is not a story about a marriage – it is a story about two people and how their marriage determines the trajectory of their lives.

Notes

This book was an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) kindly provided by the publisher via Netgalley.

*Cassie may appear from the title to be a fangirl, however she understood and L O V E D and wrote a fabulous review of Keri Hulme’s The Bone People, not an easy feat – I’ve been following her reviews ever since. Here’s her favourite quote from the book:

“But there’s no compass for my disoriented soul, only ever-beckoning ghost lights.”

29 thoughts on “Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

    • I’m going to give her short stories a try, they sound good, her other works continue to intrigue me, this one probably has suffered some from the hype and for it being an octopus like many legged metaphor of a book, that offers not just a straight read, but an invitation to indulge further analysis and identify references to other literary elements.

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  1. I’m more like ‘A Little Blog of Books’ – I wanted to know if I would love it or hate it. As often happens with me, because it takes a LOT for me to hate a book, I fell somewhere in between. I was not a fan of Lotto and thought his part dragged on a bit. I liked Mathilde better, because I thought she was more interesting, but felt a little let down after all the hype. However, I loved being able to join in on the heated discussions (I am not usually so on the ball with the new books), so that was fun for me.
    I didn’t know about her short story collection. After reading Cassie’s review, I might have to choose that one over Arcadia, which is the one I was thinking of trying next.
    What did you think of her writing style?
    I like the quote from Bookaday – sounds about right. It certainly isn’t a story about an ordinary marriage (which is what I usually prefer). I thought their characters were extreme. But it still raised some interesting questions.
    I loved reading about your ‘journey’ to Fates and Furies. And what beautiful covers she has for her books.

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    • I think she is a good storyteller, but I think it was overdone, too much plot and not enough introspection, I probably prefer Anne Tyler’s realistic observations of domesticity and portrayal of family, marriage, the things we share, versus the things we don’t, she keeps our attention, because she creates quite ordinary characters and then we discover the extraordinary things they do.

      Lauren Groff has done almost the opposite, created quite extraordinary (bordering on unbelievable) characters, so there’s no real surprise about their behaviours, just a gradual revealing of them. They don’t elicit the same emotional response in the reader, for me they felt too made up, so I couldn’t feel for them, I wasn’t drawn in sufficiently.

      That said, I think she is talented and I do want to read her other work.

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      • Yes, I think I also prefer ‘ordinary’ characters. I definitely didn’t feel attached or even sympathetic to either Lotto or Mathilde, even though at times they were interesting.

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  2. I recall you mentioning this book in your comments on one of my recent posts, possibly Elizabeth Taylor’s A Game of Hide and Seek, as it touches on marriage. I doubt whether Groff’s novel would be my cup of tea either. There’s been quite a buzz about it over here, so it’s interesting to see your take on it.

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    • Yes, there seemed to be a few novels about with their various take on marriage, this one is kind of unique and probably not your cup of tea Jacqui, but Naomi has it on the shelf to read, so I’ll be interested to see what she has to say about it.

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  3. I had mixed feelings about this, too, although I much preferred Mathilde’s story to Lotto’s. It’s one of those big, baggy books which needs a good editorial trim but on the whole I enjoyed it and was pleased to have read it.

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    • I’m looking forward to reading something else of hers to see how I find it, I had been anticipating reading her for so long and it doesn’t seem right to base it soley on this one read, I don’t think this story will stay with me that long, I’m already scratching my head reading reviews, asking myself “what twist?”

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  4. Yay, so I was not the only one who had mixed feelings about this book. It had some good scenes (Lotto’s behaviour on the panel at the writing conference, for instance), but on the whole it felt too long, too repetitive, and more than a little pretentious (the characters, too).

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  5. Jeepers, I’d take your blogger friend’s recommendation any day over that of the Obamas, but I can surely understand your fascinating with Groff. All the books you’ve highlighted here, and have yet unread, appeal by sound to me as well. Yet I’m often reluctant to pick up a book just because it’s received high praise. After all, look what everyone thought of Gone Girl?! Still, this is worth checking out from the library at least, before one buys.

    A hippy story from the 60’s? That sounds especially fun!

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    • Yes, I kind of wish I picked up Delicate, Edible Birds first, it’s the next on the list anyway, I’m interested in reading the other two as well. I’m still wondering what Cassie thought of this one and whether she’s read it, I hope she’ll stop by and tell us more about her fascination with Lauren Groff since her debut!

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    • Absolutely, I have a beautiful hardback edition of Delicate ,Edible Birds and I really want to read that, in fact recently I heard her speak in an interview where she speaks about the things she has learned along the way, including, not to steal too closely from the experiences of your family – one of the stories in this collection caused her mother not to speak to her for 3 months!

      The early novels do appeal as well, I think she has a good storytelling ability, for me with Fates and Furies, its like she was trying to be a little too clever, there was too much plot and not enough introspection.

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    • Actually I watched some of that interview, I think you mentioned it in your review, so I fast forwarded to the place you suggested, which is how I knew about the story she wrote about her mother in her short story collection, but I still want to read something else by her as I value Cassie’s judgement and I have the short story collection and also Arcadia, this one had it’s flaws and became too much for me by the second half, I kind of lost interest. I’ll watch all that interview and let you know what I think😉

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  6. I actually listened to the book on Audible and at the end of the first section, when Lotto dies, I could have sworn that was going to be the end of the book. Indeed, according to the blurb Groff had thought about publishing the story in two volumes. However, against all odds, Groff kept it going without losing my interest, so she definitely gets some brownie points.

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  7. I enjoyed this a little more than you did. Actually a lot, though I agree with your assessment of Mathilde as not quite credible and Lotto as somewhat unappealing. I loved the language, though, and found myself wrapped up in the story in a can’t-put-down sort of way. It seemed to me that the second half unraveled the first – and did so deliberately.

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    • I expected to enjoy it a lot more than I did and I rocketed along in the first half, but just lost steam in the second due to what seemed to me to be the inauthenticity. I’m looking forward to reading her other stories though as I know she’s got something special and I want to discover more of that. Thanks for your thoughtful comment and insights, so often the experience of reading is uplifted even more by what another perspective, and yours helps makes sense of it.

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  8. Well done Claire! You did a lot better than me. You know that phrase,”If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” lol! Well you know what I think. Overhyped to the max!!! Why? Probably because it’s Obama’s favorite book of the year. I’m with you on checking out Michelle’s favorite of the year. It sounds like it’s right up my alley.😉

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