I was inspired to read Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies after NPR chose it for their Morning Edition book club. My immediate reaction was to roll my eyes at the language, and I even started to write it off as a bit pretentious, but that changed after just a few pages. I became enraptured by this book, finding myself thinking about it and wondering what was going to happen next in between readings. Ugh, I LOVE when that happens during a book.
It’s the tale of a marriage told from the perspective of the husband (Lancelot aka Lotto) first and then from the perspective of his wife (Mathilde). Mathilde’s perspective was almost alarming since I didn’t see any of it coming—the skeletons in this woman’s closet have their own closets full of skeletons. Usually I like to think I’m relatively perceptive, but damn, Groff—you got me. It threw me so off-balance that my immediate instinct was to totally reject the character and her secrets that. I wanted to believe that she had a perfect marriage where she and her spouse knew everything about one another. That is, until I started questioning why I disliked this strong, wildly independent female lead so much and preferred her as the timid wife that her husband saw her as. I think it was simply because I heard Lotto’s side of the story first and was so ready to read the perspective of his quiet, stay-at-home wife who lived to serve him and their marriage.
In her interview with Morning Edition, Groff talks about how she rejected the idea of marriage until her now-husband proposed and she accepted since she didn’t want to lose him. She felt like a hypocrite (I definitely don’t think she is), and this book was a redemption of sorts for her. What she created was a strong character who tells her husband within the first few pages of the book that she isn’t his just because she’s his wife. Girl, YES.
Lotto was raised with a lot of money and the constant support of his family who put him on a pedestal at birth—he was told that he could do anything and that he was destined for greatness, an that idea followed him for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, Mathilde was lonely and outcasted (sometimes intentionally so), and never understood what it was like to be adored while her husband had legions of loyal followers. He turned a blind eye to the imperfections in his life and to Mathilde’s somewhat obvious flaws rather than deal with the possibility of failure or falling short of perfection. He wanted to believe that he had a wife straight out of a fairytale as well as the best job and all the fame that came with it. They finally recognized his talent, he believed, and now he could sit back and relax as everything in life continued to come to him easily and fall into place.
Reading it from Mathilde’s perspective was startling, though. How she went into his study after he fell asleep drunk to edit and refine his plays, or finding out how she kept them financially afloat while Lotto struggled to find his calling. It was impressive, resourceful, at times exceedingly manipulative, and so not the Mathilde that I thought I knew. Then, on the other hand, it deeply saddened me to read about her own failed plays that she put on under an anonymous moniker. Even though she essentially created works through Lotto, they were accepted and approved of simply due to his name and status in the community.
I also loved the way Groff styled the book and the way she wrote it; it was poetic, yet at times it read like a more detailed play. There are few things I love more than amazing character development, and this continued right to the very end. It was an entrancing read that captivated me pretty much from start to finish; there was nothing I would change about this novel. I think if I were to read it again (which I probably will, let’s be serious), I’ll probably discover so much more than upon my first read through.