4 Jun 2017

Fates and Furies

Never has 'don't judge a book by it's cover' rung truer in my experience; when I saw this book was about a marriage, relationships and secrets, I wrongly jumped to the conclusion that this was a chick-lit kind of novel (albeit a very good one, given it's reputation). I knew next to nothing about Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies before picking it up (except that it's last month's FMN Bookclub read which I am hugely invested in, and also Barack Obama's favourite read of 2015...), except from what's written on the back, and was more than ready for an easy, breezy summer read. It was is no such thing; my expectations were matched by a lyrical, dream-esque prose accounting for the dynamic between newlyweds Lotto and Mathilde, and their weird, wonderful and deceptive lives together (and apart).

Since finishing the book, I've read a lot of reviews that, frankly, slate this book in it's entirety. The far-fetched nature of the characters, their motivations and the plot in general is classified as pretentious, unrealistic and unlikeable. A lesser Gone Girl. Although I get from where these views are coming from, I can't help but find the beyond-reality, sort of, charming about the book (although, granted, when I read that the protagonist was called Lotto, short for Lancelot, an eyebrow was raised). Despite the bizzare names, isn't it the inconceivable that we look for, and thrive from, in cultural mediums that we invest in, and really the reason we do? If you're looking for realistic circumstances, then perhaps this isn't for you, but the plays, films and stories that we put so much time into are not typically formed around reality. If you detach yourself from the realms of possibility, I think there's a lot more to appreciate as an artistic piece, opposed to thinking of this as a study on the realities (and mundanities) of life. It really is down to taste, this one. 

Mathilde, the most intriguing character of the novel (to those both within the novel and those looking in), is introduced as this beautifully-lonely enigma at the end of college, and quickly becomes a doting wife to Lotto, at 22, when they encounter at a frat party - literally playing out the act of love at first sight (clever, given the novel revolves around theatricality). Her story, as we gradually find out, is despairingly sad, and tragic in all senses of the word. The reason why she is the way she is, is something that makes you question many things - namely unconditional love, forgiveness and at what age do we become responsible for our actions. The way she is described reminded me of one of my favourite books, The Picture of Dorian Gray, in the way that language depicted towards Mathilde is sadness dressed up as beauty. Lotto objectifies her from the start and his attitude towards women is infuriatingly skin-deep and he is simply incapable of seeing this through to the end. She is seen for her beauty by every character in the book, and not for her talent; she keeps modestly quiet at the fact she spends hours tweaking Lotto's plays, lets him believe he is the genius he wants to be, and, in turn, has the 'trophy wife' aura lingering around her throughout. 

The theatrical way that the characters are illustrated to us, stereotypically archetypal of those within the industry anyway, diffuses the way we identify what is the story and what is within Lotto's plays. Mathilde, the beautifully tragic siren and Cleopartra figure who's beauty is rooted in tragedy; Lotto, the charmingly ignorant and attractive playwright that girls fall at his feet, and Chollie (think Iago), the bitterly meddling, repulsive best friend who's at the crux of the novel's plot and devilishly lingering behind the scenes through to the crescendo. The novel's irony lies in the subtext. Lotto's renound as a celebrated creative, and the 'talented' one of he and Mathilde throughout their marriage. He even states in a post-theatre talk that he believes women are lacking in creativity in general, as too much of their energy is spent, instead, creating new life (infuriatingly, he can't see why this would be offensive...). But, isn't it ironic that it is Mathilde who spends everyday acting, arguably her whole life with Lotto, and deceives him completely, even her name is not her name; she plays a bigger role than Lotto ever could, and no doubt better. The allusions to Greek tragedy woven through the novel emphasise this theme, and intertextuality has always been something that gets me when reading (spoken like the true English-lit nerd I am); I think it's to do with the satisfaction of simply recognizing a textual reference (ha). Some will like this, some won't; there are a lot of chunks in the novel that are scripts of Lotto's plays that make for very interesting observation of what's going on in his head, and his past. 

Formed in two halves (exemplifying theatre on a structural level, the two 'parts' of the novel resemble the acts of a play, with a noted interval), the book is magnetic in it's ability to draw you to one perception, only to completely deceive and shock you with an alternative point of view from another character's voice.  The book is charged with a tension that is built up and up, especially with Mathilde, and you just want her to let it out her demons, whatever they are. For instance, on Lotto's return to their after going AWOL at the writer's guild for weeks without contact and aloof with an intriguing musician that's almost certainly developed feelings in Lotto, she says nothing when he eventually returns on the matter; perhaps this is the 'unrealistic' part of the novel that I can agree with, as this is entirely unrelatable to me. The unspoken is passively tangible throughout; most of the book, in fact, circulates around the unspoken, the 'white-space' of both Lotto and Mathidle's life that is not outed to eachother, and really what makes the second half so gripping. The what if, in the circumstance that they knew each others deepest, darkest secrets, is something that particularly plays on Mathidle's mind, and she chooses to live in silence, no matter how hard it is. 

I could go on and on... a lot of rambling for this one, but I urge you to see what you make of it. Love or hate, it's definitely going to be a conversation-starter. I've just finished reading Joanna Cannon's The Trouble With Goats and Sheep, so stay tuned for that one.

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