So often I finish a novel and am left with a bevy of intense feelings that are not my own; a tinge of sadness, unexplained excitement, or a glimmer of hope. When I put down Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, I was overcome with a sense of longing. A longing to be loved, a deep desire to be appreciated; seen. Most of all I felt a longing for Mathilde, the enigmatic protagonist of Fates and Furies, a character that I felt such an innate connection with that I’ve had trouble separating her from reality.
I was sold on Fates and Furies when I saw the cover. A friend, who is a seemingly endless source of fantastic book recommendations, was raving to me about a book she’d seen in passing. The book had two covers, both phenomenal, both making me desperate to buy a copy without even knowing what the book was about. When I saw a copy in Dymocks on one of my weekly trips (adventures that mainly involve me staring longingly at the shelves with armfuls of books I have definitely cannot afford,) I couldn’t resist. I picked it up and bought it before I had a chance to be distracted by anything else.
Fates and Furies is a story of duplicity. Every story has two sides, every relationship has two stories. The book is broken into two parts, Fates and Furies. Fates is attributed to Lancelot (Lotto) Satterwhite. This section of the book is the love story, the build-up of 20 years of marriage. Mathilde’s section, Furies, is the delayering of that relationship. It’s a story about marriage, a seemingly banal topic from the outside. Fates and Furies delves into the sacrifice forced on us by commitment, the burden and the joy of sharing your life with another, and the difficulty in keeping yourself whole after becoming half of a pair.
“Great swaths of her life were white space to her husband. What she did not tell him balanced neatly with what she did. Still, there are untruths made of words and untruths made of silence, and Mathilde had only ever lied to Lotto in what she never said.”
Before sitting down to write this, I skimmed through the Goodreads reviews for the book. Overwhelmingly, and disappointingly, the reviews were negative. There were people who believed Groff was trying too hard to create a literary masterpiece, people who believed the story to be pretentious. I won’t deny that this story was pretentious, in the writing, in the theme; however, I would argue that a little pretention every now and then is not a bad thing. When I hear reviews like that I often wonder about why we call things pretentious. When I read Grief is a Thing With Feathers early this year, I finished with a feeling of disappointment, because the book was pretentious. Or, at least to me it was. I found it was trying too hard to break into the realm of ‘arty’ literature. I felt as if the book was written to be confusing, and all the people who were saying it was so spectacular were just trying to ensure no one else realised they were confused too. That being said, I have heard some amazing reviews for Grief is a Thing With Feathers, and although I am not alone in thinking it was pretentious, I’m definitely in the minority.
And now we come full circle back to Fates and Furies. Our opinions on literature are so subjective, our experience moulding our impressions. I loved the way Fates and Furies was written. Reading it, I felt as if I was lying in a gentle current, the waves moving me to and fro. Groff’s writing gave me comfort, an innate connection, the feeling of being with an old friend.
I think that’s why I’m having so much trouble getting Mathilde out of my mind. Her character connected with something in me, and unspoken part of myself I didn’t notice until prompted by this delicate but fierce woman. In the end, that’s what reading is about, isn’t it? C.S Lewis said “We read to know we’re not alone.” This book reminded me of that, it gave me that feeling that someone out there thinks and feels like me. There was a part of Mathilde that was dark and frightening, even to herself. She’s lost, but she has purpose. She’s surrounded by people, but she’s completely alone. The contradictions of Mathilde’s existence moved me more than I can express. I wish that Fates and Furies had gone on forever, because closing the book felt so much like losing a friend.