Violet wells's Reviews > Fates and Furies

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
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it was ok
bookshelves: 21st-century, contemporary-american-fiction

The only award I'd bestow on this is the most unconvincing portrait of a literary genius ever written. Lancelot Satterwhite (his father's name is Gawain though we're missing Merlin) is the character in question. As his name would suggest he's a buffoonish knight in expensive armour. He makes two life-changing transformations - firstly, he changes from a womaniser into a model husband overnight; then he changes from a third rate actor into a first rate playwright literally overnight. The suspension of disbelief in both cases is much more problematic than anything in Harry Potter. When Groff with brave foolhardiness provides us excerpts from his plays our suspicion that he's far from possessing the talent to write any kind of groundbreaking or commercially successful play are more than confirmed.

I wish I could say what this novel is about; however its motivational drive eluded me. It says on the jacket that the key to every marriage is not its truths but its secrets. That's an interesting idea but not one the novel explores with any subtlety. The secrets in this book are essentially melodramatic and even a little preposterous; they're also all one-sided which meant you had one overly complex character, the wife, and one overly simplistic, the husband. At times Groff flirts with leftfield feminist notions of the role a wife plays in the creative output of her husband, like the idea Zelda was the real genius in the Fitzgerald partnership. You can imagine a male backlash to these notions and in a hundred years men claiming Leonard was the true genius in the Woolf marriage or Middleton Murray was the real driving force behind Katherine Mansfield's gift. They'd be no less absurd. At other times it posits the idea that men are either loveable simpletons or sinister predators, that you get what you see (Groff seems to equate fat with pernicious intent), and it's left to women to alchemise all the complexity and inner life of a relationship. There's probably a great novel to be had in juxtaposing the divergent perspectives of the man and the woman in a single marriage. The key would be to make both points of view equally as valid and credible. A massive problem for me here was neither male nor female were credible - Lancelot never once seemed to possess an inner life; Mathilde on the other hand was ALL inner life. It's also a novel brimming with allusions to classical literature as if it boasts layer upon layer of profundity. Even the title would imply we're dealing with a book with lofty pretensions. But all the allusions seemed vapid to me. I was rarely convinced Groff had command of her material in this novel. Did she, for example, intend her two central characters to come across as overgrown children? The first half isn't the perspective of the husband and the second half the perspective of the wife as some have suggested. There are clumsy deviations and overlappings in the narrative voice in both sections. Neither was I convinced she has a gift for comedy. I often found myself wishing for more gravitas. However there was the sense Groff will write a good novel. Perhaps she just needs to grow up a bit? I'm sure it's a better novel than I'm making it out to be but sometimes a book irritates us and we become a bit irrational and exaggerated in our dislike. It was the whimsical tone with its posturing prose that irritated me here.

On a final note I struggle to understand why Obama loved this so much, especially because not one of the outrageously spoilt and privileged characters would have voted for him.
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Reading Progress

January 2, 2016 – Shelved
January 2, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
October 8, 2018 – Started Reading
October 8, 2018 – Shelved as: 21st-century
October 8, 2018 – Shelved as: contemporary-american-fiction
October 13, 2018 –
page 120
30.77% "I'm finding this a bit of a bore. If I was sat next to the husband of this novel at a dinner party I'd feign a migraine and call a cab."
October 17, 2018 –
page 250
64.1% "Still struggling. It's like the author hasn't grasped that her two central characters are a pair of overgrown children. I'm troubled that this was Obama's favourite novel one year. The hope is he only had time to read two others."
October 24, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-19 of 19 (19 new)

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Elyse (retired from reviewing/semi hiatus) Walters Violet... I read the Arc on this book ‘way’ back before it hit the stores - and I wasn’t goo- goo over it then. Others were — I kept thinking “what’s wrong with me”? But the book irritated me too.
Which is why I put off reading “Florida” .... but now I am on the waitlist with the library for it. I might give it a try.
Good review!!!’


Violet wells Elyse wrote: "Violet... I read the Arc on this book ‘way’ back before it hit the stores - and I wasn’t goo- goo over it then. Others were — I kept thinking “what’s wrong with me”? But the book irritated me too.
..."


Thanks Elyse. I'll probably read another of her books as I do want to like her. My instinct is she should avoid comedy and curb the wordsmithery. At times it felt like the kind of novel Nicole Krauss might have written when she was sixteen. Hope all's good with you. XX


Elyse (retired from reviewing/semi hiatus) Walters I ALSO would like to like Lauren more. I remember reading this around the time Esil did. She loved it. I wanted to love it - but much bugged me - and of course I wondered what was wrong with me.
Do I was fearful to even touch Florida lol ... but it’s coming .., not paying for it though - coming from the library.., maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Interesting comparison with Nicole Krause - and I kinda see it too.

Thinking of you!!! xo


Violet wells Elyse wrote: "I ALSO would like to like Lauren more. I remember reading this around the time Esil did. She loved it. I wanted to love it - but much bugged me - and of course I wondered what was wrong with me.
D..."


It's always risky to go for a distinctive bold prose style. Usually I admire authors who strive for an authentic voice but this sounded forced to me. I quite like the sound of Arcadia but I'm a bit fearful of more whimsy. Perhaps short stories are the best bet. So happy to hear you're doing well and about to travel! XX


Chris You are not alone, Violet. I did not care for this book at all.


Violet wells Chris wrote: "You are not alone, Violet. I did not care for this book at all."

Almost seems like a 50/50 split!


Jacqueline Masumian Yes, this was one of very few books I have abandoned, unable to stomach the characters. Nice review.


Violet wells Jacqueline wrote: "Yes, this was one of very few books I have abandoned, unable to stomach the characters. Nice review."

I was on the verge of abandoning it more than once!


Robin Yes. Yes! You said it all very well as always, Violet. Every thing you mentioned checked a box for me, in bold, red ink. This book was pretending to be a lot more important than it is. I hated both husband and wife and even now struggle to know what the hell it was all really supposed to be about. Excellent analysis.


message 10: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala ...sometimes a book irritates us and we become a bit irrational and exaggerated in our dislike...

Sniggering to myself here, Violet - while simultaneously turning red.
Yup. I too have written reviews under the influence of that duo, Irrational and Exaggerated.
But what are we to do when books insist on being 'whimsical' and 'posturing'.
I've avoided this much-lauded book. Or could it be that it has avoided me...


Violet wells Robin wrote: "Yes. Yes! You said it all very well as always, Violet. Every thing you mentioned checked a box for me, in bold, red ink. This book was pretending to be a lot more important than it is. I hated both..."

Thanks Robin. Yep, weren't they an obnoxious couple? But why?


Violet wells Fionnuala wrote: "...sometimes a book irritates us and we become a bit irrational and exaggerated in our dislike...

Sniggering to myself here, Violet - while simultaneously turning red.
Yup. I too have written rev..."


Once irritation sets in I'm already poisoning my pen for the review!


Chris Blocker Thanks for this review, Violet. It's always nice to hear from other dissenters on a well-loved book.


message 14: by Adina (new)

Adina Great review. Glad I got rid of this one from my TBR some time ago.


Kathy Couldn’t agree more. This book was so disappointing for me. Arcadia is one of my favorites, and the reviews were glowing. For me this was just a pretentious mess. I didn’t care for The Monsters of Templeton either and I’m avoiding Florida, but based on my love of Arcadia I may try a Groff novel again someday.


Violet wells Chris wrote: "Thanks for this review, Violet. It's always nice to hear from other dissenters on a well-loved book."

Agreed with everything you said in your review, Chris. The relentless sex was tiresome as if every time she didn't know how to resolve a conflict she disrobed her characters of their clothes instead of their motives.


Violet wells Adina wrote: "Great review. Glad I got rid of this one from my TBR some time ago."

Thanks Adina.


Violet wells Kathy wrote: "Couldn’t agree more. This book was so disappointing for me. Arcadia is one of my favorites, and the reviews were glowing. For me this was just a pretentious mess. I didn’t care for The Monsters of ..."

That's interesting that you didn't like this but loved Arcadia because I like the sound of that book. Perhaps I'll give that a go.


message 19: by Anne (new) - rated it 2 stars

Anne I'm in the middle of this book. I avoided it for so long. Don't know what made me pick it up. I read your review and should have stopped there, but then I read other very glowing reviews by friends I respect. I became intrigued with the change in narrative from husband to wife. I read it with great irritation for many of the same reasons you point out in your review. I'm tired of the whole mess already but will finish it very quickly and move on with relief.


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