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I bought Lauren Groff’s new novel Fates and Furies from Trondheim airport on my way to Kuwait. It’s quite a long book but also a long journey so the book kept me company until I flew home again.
I hadn’t heard of Groff but I was intrigued by the reference to Greek mythology in the title and by the short blurb on the back of the book
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
A quick Google search now revealed more evidence that I’m a trogolodyte because this book was rated as the number one book of 2015 in the USA based on popularity, presence on top 10 lists and being chosen by Barack Obama as his top read of 2015. I also discovered last week at a party that, Karimov, the dictator of Uzbekistan died earlier this year. Since unplugging myself from the media I rely on word of mouth and if I don’t find out something, I didn’t need to know. I have temporarily now shelved burgeoning plans to travel to Uzbekistan until things calm down.
Back to the book, as you can probably guess the novel follows a couple: Lancelot and Mathilde. The first half follows Lancelot from birth to death and the second follows Mathilde. Sometimes the same moment in their marriage is told from both perspectives, but half a book apart so you need to hold Lancelot’s version in your memory when reading Mathilde’s version.
Lancelot’s story has its ups and downs but is essentially the sunny story of a golden American boy, white, wealthy, privileged. The only real trials in his life are the death of his beloved father, estrangement from his mother, the awful business of fitting into a rich boys boarding school, and periods of depression when his creative passion is stifled. Otherwise the gods smile on Lancelot (Lotto) who finds beauty in all women and some young men too and has sex with countless people until he is 22 and falls suddenly and deeply in lust then love with Mathilde. As much in love as a narcissistic extrovert who doesn’t really connect with anyone can be anyway. Mathilde arranges his life, supports him financially and takes care of everything to allow Lancelot time and space for his creative process.
I actually found Lancelot’s section of the novel boring at times. I couldn’t relate to him and the cardboard character of Mathilde is that section of the novel was unsatisfactory. All of the descriptions of sex were boring and it reminded me of Alan Hollinghurst’s boring sex fascination in The Line of Beauty. I think that the most interesting part of Lancelot’s half of the novel was the episode with composer Leo Sen. The rest could have been cut down.
Mathilde’s section of the novel by contrast was utterly engaging and not even the fatigue of a one day work trip to Kuwait could break my concentration. Where Lancelot was honest and good, Mathilde (Aurélie) was unrelentingly dishonest and at times evil. Her story is dark, full of suffering and rage. Poor Aurélie, I cried for her when she was expelled from her family home. Her parents are monsters. Her uncle was incomprehensible and Ariel was a pervert. No wonder Mathilde was so furious.
Could it be that marriages can really occur like theirs? With transparency on one side and opacity on the other? Mathilde pulls the strings and Lancelot is her puppet. Interestingly, neither realises that the other is desperately afraid that he/she will abandon the marriage. Both are bound to each other out of lust, codependence and insecurity. That doesn’t sound like a good mix but they genuinely seem to he happy with each other.
This is literary fiction and I enjoyed reading it. I wonder if Donna Tartt enjoyed it? Aspects of it reminded me of The Secret History. Groff did a good job and I can see why it is a popular book. What did you think of this thought-provoking book?
I enjoyed reading these reviews too: