Fates and Furies has been recommended to me by my mum (funnily enough, as I read it I discovered she did not, so it was all a hearsay recommendation), back when it was published in 2015. It was lingering on my Kindle for a while despite, or maybe because the book caused so much noise. The spark of interest just wasn’t there. But then there was the niggling curiosity to know what the fuss has been all about. With such books, it is interesting to read them when the noise dies down, as the emotions calm down and we can afford to take a step back and assess them not in the heat of the moment and discussion but in their own right.
If you heard about this book you may already know it is a history of one marriage. We meet Lotto and Mathilde right after they tied the know, at the age of 22, and are celebrating their honeymoon in a beach house. But right after that passionate and joyful intro, we are thrown back to Lotto’s past. The first part of the book is his origin story. A weird and unhappy childhood, marked by a loss, then his teenage years in a boarding school. All the way to his student days, which reminded me a bit of Theo from The Goldfinch in their abandon.
Then just as he celebrates the end of his student days Lotto meets Mathilde, and it is love at first sight. They get married after a few weeks of passionate courtship and seem like a perfect couple. Nothing can dim their happiness. Then time speeds up and we meet them once a year during the parties they throw for their friends from university. Lotto and Mathilde’s universe consists of a loose group of friends, with three main characters binding Lotto to his life before Mathilde: Chollie his annoying and often obnoxious friend from childhood, aunt Sallie and his sister Rachel. As for Mathilde, there is no one in her past, giving Lotto a sense of complete ownership (which sounds creepy and is intended to).
Lotto tries his career as an actor only to discover, after years of moderately successful attempts, that his talent lies in writing for theatre rather than acting. For years he relied on Mathilde to keep them afloat, after he has been cut off by his mother for marrying Mathilde. But when his playwright career takes off everything shifts. Now he becomes the main provider and Mathilde can focus on organizing his life. And yes, it is as sexist as it sounds, intentionally. Lotto always craves drama and attention, he feeds off the emotions he stirs in people, loves their adulation. But he also lives in permanent fear that Mathilde will leave him. He knows he cannot function without her. And then he discovers her secret.
That’s when we jump to Mathilde’s side of the story. It is a lot less linear, as we see how she deals with Lotto’s discovery, but also have flashbacks to her past. This is where the title Furies take over. And this is where the book lost its charm for me a bit. For Mathilde has been subjected to an incredible level of abuse throughout her whole life. And I do not claim that such things don’t happen, but her handling of it is not quite believable. Especially emotionally. Mathilde certainly is not the woman Lotto took her for. But also even in his dependency on her, he does not realize how much he really owes her.
It is very much a tale of how little we know about a person sleeping next to us. How they will always remain a separate individual with their own thoughts, even if we think we can finish each other’s sentences. But Groff goes into the extreme to show this, which I think is a bit unnecessary and could be done in a more subtle, but credible and convincing way. I found imperfect and self-absorbed Lotto believable, but the cold and calculating Mathilde that we discover in the second part of the book feels like an artificial creation.
All in all, it was interesting vivisection of a specific marriage, but not a brilliant take on an institution of marriage overall. The story just isn’t realistic enough to carry such weight. Still, it is an enjoyable and interesting read. I’m just not sure if it deserved all of the attention it got.
It is good to explore more than one point of view, so below you can find a few other reviews of Fates and Furies:
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska