Book Review: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates and Furies - Lauren Groff (Riverhead Books, 2015)
Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff (Riverhead Books, 2015)

Lotto and Mathilde meet at the very end of their final year of university and marry two weeks later. They’re young, broke, and both shocked by the fact of falling in love. Fates and Furies follows them through the next twenty or so years of their marriage, detailing the ups and downs, the secrets that they share and the secrets they keep. The early years are shown through the parties they throw – at first raucous and wild, then mellowing with age. Then, following a surprise career change for Lotto, the action slows and the story becomes more complicated.

The first half of the novel focuses on Lotto, following him from birth (and even before, giving details about his parents and their histories), his childhood and particularly his relationship with his mother, something that is an important factor throughout his life and his marriage. (A man with a mixed-up relationship with his mother seems a little heavy-handed and Freudian even but for the most part Groff keeps Lotto’s mother from being too heavy-handed.) In the second half of the story we learn of Mathilde’ childhood and all the things about her that Lotto never knew.

The key point of the novel is ostensibly that Lotto and Mathilde’s marriage is happy though unconventional and yet there is so much they have hidden from one another. The second half of the novel is primarily comprised of all the ways Mathilde is not who Lotto thought she was but she made him very happy, so does it matter? My problem here is that we never truly see the substance of Lotto and Mathilde’s marriage. We never see them do anything together except host parties (which are often being thrown by one of them rather than both) and have sex. There doesn’t seem to be much basis for their relationships or for the reader to believe that they are so happy and in love. Where are their private jokes, their shared memories, the unique and mundane and sacred rituals of people who wake up together every day?

While both Lotto and Mathilde are fascinating characters, they aren’t people I’d want to spend time with in real life, despite being constantly told how charming Lotto is or how intriguing everyone finds Mathilde. The novel generally suffers from a bit too much telling rather than showing, which is especially disappointing because when Groff does show instead of tell, she does it very well. Groff never really makes her readers fall in love and so I’m not sure how much we’re supposed to believe the descriptions that are given to the main characters.

Overall, Fates and Furies has a lot of strong writing, characters with great potential, and some interesting revelations. Yet it falls short of feeling like a complete story and I was left to wonder what comes next.


8 thoughts on “Book Review: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff”

    1. There was a lot to enjoy and I thought Groff’s writing was strong, even if I found some of it disappointing. Have you read others by her? I’m curious about her other novels.

  1. Hmm. I have this book on my TBR for quite some time now, each time I try to start it, I hesitate. I am not quite sure whether or not I would like it. Good to read other people’s thoughts on this.

    1. A lot of people did like it so maybe you will too! It’s not a long or difficult read so at least it’s not a big time investment!

  2. Hmm… sounds like she hasn’t fleshed the marriage out too well. As you say, it’s the day to day stuff that makes or breaks a marriage, not the big set piece parties, or the sex. But I find that’s a common failing with love in fiction – so often two people simply fall in love with no real interaction to show what it is they actually talk about or like about each other. Fair enough, infatuation is often what starts a relationship but it has to grow, surely, if it’s going to last…

    1. Yes, too often authors seem to think it’s enough to show character infatuated with each other but not really in day-to-day, I love you and we brush our teeth together, and I’m attracted to you but we also have to pick up groceries, love. It’s especially obvious (and disappointing) when the book is about their relationship over many years.

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