“Fates and Furies” explores privilege and heartbreak
I just finished Fates and Furies and I don’t know how I feel. I don’t know how I could feel. Is it possible to feel a good kind of empty?
There’s an emptiness that swallows me whole after I read a good book. No, not a good book — a beautiful book. It happened when I read Pale Fire too. I think I do this instead of crying.
I’ve cried at like two books, neither of which are classics. they’re good books, sure. but they’re not beautiful. I cry a lot in real life. I find it so difficult to cry for books.
(Why did I cry at those books? They weren’t even sad. They were comedies. There was a happy ending. Why did I cry?)
I think this emptiness is happening because my brain can’t handle the book. It can’t handle the beauty that exists in the book. That thread (tiny, but important, a couple of paragraphs, maybe less.) about Shakespeare — heartbreaking: Mathilde is Volumnia, fascinating but ignored by society, and, indeed, me (I can’t speak for you).
(Antoinette, too, is Volumnia. There’s a brief glance of her Furies in the first chapters, when she thinks of the mermaids “who’d sing a ship full of men onto the rocks”. Lotto’s life is filled with Volumnias, though he doesn’t realise it.)
Until I began “Furies”, I ignored Mathilde. She was a cipher for Lotto’s art — I believed that the outrage was, well, outrageous when Lotto said that his wife was “happy to [cook and clean and edit]”. She was happy — from what I could tell. Never once did I think for a second that Mathilde could be writing “short, spiky fictions” of her own. Never once did I think that Mathilde would present a play called “Volumnia” to an empty theatre. Never once did I think that my heart would break when Mathilde sacrificed her own art for Lotto’s.
That’s my fault — my misogyny.
But that’s when the themes become evident, in “Furies”, when you realise that Fates and Furies is a book about privilege. Why didn’t I realise beforehand? Even Lotto’s name points to the game of chance that is life — one heavenly dice roll different and Lotto would have lost the lotto. The Fates smiled upon him — from the first, his father told him that he possessed “the weight of genius”.
When I started the book, I never thought my heart would ache for these characters. Lauren Groff draws her character well — first as sketches, to be filled in, and then as impressionist masterpieces, ready for the galleries.
And the words! How can I talk about what she writes? She writes galaxies in a sentence, the universe in a paragraph.
All this writing is filling up that hole inside me. Perhaps a good book just wants to get talked about?
It’s hard to talk about it now without feeling dumb. It’s 1:16am. It’s hard to talk about anything without feeling dumb. But this book makes you feel dumb.
From its vast corpus of allusions (mostly Arthurian, Grecian and Shakespearean — I’m sure I could find significance in that if I were smarter. something about how these were centred on men, even though their women were more interesting. Just like the book. I wish I could put my thoughts into words.) to the way it manages to be a page turner and a character study, Fates and Furies is so intelligent. It’s actually ridiculous.
Speaking of it being a page turner — the book manages to bring out a brand new twist every eleventh hour without it ever feeling cheap or unearned. It has a way about it that makes its plot twists feel naturalistic — like they had to happen. Because this is what would happen in real life. How could it go any differently? Perhaps this is because of its heavy emphasis on fate. Perhaps this is because of Lauren Groff’s skill as a writer.
Honestly, I just want to read it again. It’s 1:22am and I’ve got school in the morning.
But hey, that hasn’t stopped me before.
It’s 9:43am. I am in maths. I am going to cry.