Is it possible to ever truly know a person? Is it possible to remain happy in a long-term relationship while being completely honest? These questions are at the heart of Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, a novel about Lotto and Mathilde Satterwhite and their relationship over the course of twenty-four years. The book is divided into two halves showing the two sides of the marriage: Fates, which is Lotto’s, and Furies, which is Mathilde’s.
Lotto (short for Lancelot) is an aspiring actor fresh off stage in his college production of Hamlet when he meets Mathilde at a party. His first words to her are ‘Marry me!’, to which she replies ‘Sure’ and two weeks later they elope. He is from a rich family, her background is shadowy and vague. His mother disapproves of the whirlwind marriage and so she cuts Lotto off, leaving him and Mathilde to struggle financially. Despite this and Lotto’s ongoing failure as an actor, they remain passionately in love, the golden couple everyone in their circle looks up to.
Eventually Lotto discovers a talent for writing and their fortunes change. Mathilde becomes a professional artist’s wife, keeping the world at bay and tending to his every need while he writes hit plays. Of course they have their flaws – Lotto can be needy, narcissistic, a man who can skate along the surface of things without questioning deeply; Mathilde can be cold, impatient, angry – but overall it seems that they are made for each other, that rare occurrence of a truly happy couple. But in the second half of the book, Mathilde’s story presents a different version of their marriage, one filled with secrets, deceptions and vengeance.
Fates and Furies has been compared to Gone Girl, another novel about differing perspectives on a marriage, but where Gone Girl was a plot-driven thriller, Fates and Furies is a far more literary novel with the focus firmly on Groff’s wonderful writing. There is no such thing as a perfect book and there were a couple of plot twists in the second half that stretched my credulity a little, but Groff’s lyricism and unique talent for description swept me past any obstacles.
The book was published in 2015 and garnered much praise, being shortlisted for the National Book Award and proclaimed by Amazon as their book of the year. Although it’s only January, I suspect that this book will definitely be one of my most recommended books of 2017.