Book Review: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

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December 08, 2015
I sometimes make the mistake of reading blurbs or too-long comments about books I’m interested in reading that get too into the stories and spoil the experience if not the actual plot. “Just like Gone Girl!” they say. “Just wait for the twist!”

First of all, this book is nothing like Gone Girl! Unless you reduce Gone Girl to just being a story about a marriage, then sure, it is exactly like Gone Girl. Second of all, when you put “Gone Girl” and “twist” in the same sentence while referencing another book, I am going to expect murder. Shame on you, internet, for deceiving me and depriving me of that.

What this book is actually about, like I mentioned, is a marriage told from two different perspectives. Lotto and Mathilde. Fates and Furies. It tells the story of how they met, how they married young and the subsequent decades they spent together. In the first half, you see the marriage from the perspective of Lotto, a self-centered, self-absorbed wannabe actor born into wealth and privilege. After his father’s death and an attempt at rebellion during his teenage years, he gets sent to boarding school, where he discovers a love for theatre and acting. He goes to college to pursue his passion and there, he meets Mathilde. He’s only known her for 10 seconds, but he gets on one knee and asks her to marry him. Two weeks later, they’re married.

It makes you (and the other characters) question right away the reasons behind such a hasty decision. His mother, his best friend, his college acquaintances all whisper and wonder because no one gets married fresh out of college to someone they’ve only just met at a college party. Is it the money? Simple infatuation? How long until they divorce?

But as the first part progresses, from Lotto’s attempt and failure to become an actor and the struggle of surviving on his wife’s paycheck, to the realization of his talent as a playwright and his success, you see the marriage has survived every up and down life has thrown at them. 10, 20 years down the line and their friends and family are in awe of such a strong bond. A golden couple, none more perfect for each other than Lotto and Mathilde. At least in Lotto’s mind.

The second half of the book reveals secrets that were never really secrets to begin with because Lotto had always been so self-absorbed, the world revolving only around him, that he never seemed to show any interest in his wife’s life beyond the marriage. It still comes as somewhat of a shock to see that everything Lotto believed had been brought on by fate (they way he met Mathilde, the way their marriage worked and lasted, her strength and patience and devotion) had actually been orchestrated by Mathilde and the fury in her.

I really enjoyed the way the author tricks you into believing one thing and then turns back around and shifts everything you thought you knew. “Storytelling is a landscape, and tragedy is comedy is drama. It simply depends on how you frame what you’re seeing.” It makes you wonder how well do you really know the people around you when they only show you what they want you to see.

At the same time, I don’t think this story would have worked with any other type of character. Would Mathilde have been able to get away with so many of the things she did had Lotto cared and paid attention to more than his own wants and needs? Doubtful. It’s not a very relatable story, but as a character study, it’s very interesting (even when the characters themselves aren’t very interesting at all!)

What I didn’t like about this book was the writing style. Groff’s style came off as pretentious and over the top. It was too flowery and at times it was abrupt and confusing and it all made it seem like she was trying too hard. I also had a hard time connecting with the characters or caring about any of them. It made it especially difficult to slog through the first half of the book, but come the second half, the pace picks up and it’s not so bad. I guess the events make up for the last of compelling characters.

Overall, I enjoyed this book as it put in perspective a lot of things I’d never given thought to before, but there were things that put me off that would make me hesitate before picking up another book from this author.

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