Friday 2 October 2015

Book Review: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff.

Product details:
Publisher: William Heinemann.
Paperback, 400 pages.
Release date: September 17th 2015.
Rating:  2 out of 5.
Ages: Adult.
Source: Received from publisher for review.

 Fates and Furies is a literary masterpiece that defies expectation. A dazzling examination of a marriage, it is also a portrait of creative partnership written by one of the best writers of her generation.

Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.

At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love, and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed. With stunning revelations and multiple threads, and in prose that is vibrantly alive and original, Groff delivers a deeply satisfying novel about love, art, creativity, and power that is unlike anything that has come before it. Profound, surprising, propulsive, and emotionally riveting, it stirs both the mind and the heart.

 A critically acclaimed novel, longlisted for the 2015 National Book Awards and described as ‘a literary masterpiece that defies expectation,’ it’s safe to say that when I picked up my copy of Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, I was sure I was in for a real treat.  Now, there are some books that you fall in love with immediately, some that take a little time, and some that you don’t give up on even when they’re not working out for you, well, because you’ve been promised that the book is pretty much the best thing since sliced bread, written by no less than ‘one of the best writers of her generation.’

 I’ve never been the kind of blogger who enjoys writing scathing reviews, but I have to be totally honest here and say that I was seriously unimpressed with this book. It’s got a major PR campaign behind it, and once again I fell for the publisher hype. Lesson learned, you would hope – although I can’t promise I won’t make this mistake again.  Safe to say that for me, Fates and Furies didn’t read like a literary masterpiece.  Rather it read like an unfinished first draft at times; one full of rambling self-indulgent prose, half-baked sentences and unconventional, unconvincing syntax. Groff’s writing style takes a whole lot of getting used to, it has to be said. The prose is pure purple and sentences are often constructed in such a long-winded, clunky and complex fashion as to make Fates and Furies a sometimes downright draining reading experience.

The story itself is a pretty simple one (although you wouldn’t think that from the way it’s written!) The story of Lancelot (Lotto) and Mathilde, married after a weeks-long whirlwind romance in their early twenties, told over twentysomething years.  The first part of the story (Fates) is told from Lotto’s point of view. Born into wealth, wannabe actor Lotto is disinherited when he marries Mathilde, but that doesn’t stop him from flourishing in life. Lotto is as charming as his life is charmed. But his story doesn’t make for a very interesting read. Lotto is presented to us as a little too-perfect, his life a little too easy, and that just reads as boring.   Mathilde, however, is a more complex creature. An enigma until the second part of the book (Furies), Mathilde is as detached as Lotto is the life of the party and where Lotto wears his heart on his sleeve, Mathilde says little, observing everything. Together, Lotto and Mathilde defy the doubts of their friends, all of who are convinced that their marriage is doomed to fail any time now. So, what makes the marriage of this seemingly opposite-in-every-way couple work?

You’ll find out when Groff delves into the mind of Mathilde.  Mathilde’s story is what saved this book from being a total DNF for me, because let me tell you, that almost happened a number of times.  There are twists in Mathilde’s tale that make this story an almost-absorbing read at times; although the overblown writing style soon puts an end to that.  Fates and Furies promotes the notion that it is the secrets and lies held deep within a marriage that make it work, but I prefer to deal in truths, so while this book may win a whole host of literary awards and garner praise far and wide, I’ll just put this out there, and say what I really mean: Overwritten, overwrought and overblown – this book was not for me.

I recommend reading an extract of Fates and Furies before you decide whether or not to read the book. I think Groff’s writing style may be a love/hate kind of thing, and while it obviously didn’t work for me, this book certainly has its plaudits.

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