‘Fates and Furies’ by Lauren Groff – “A Pathological Truth-Teller”

‘Fates and Furies’ by Lauren Groff    (2015)  –  390 pages


Even the title of Lauren Groff’s tremendous new novel, ‘Fates and Furies’, indicates that it is mythic, not realistic.  That’s OK since realism in fiction has pretty much run its course over the last few decades although there is a glut of new realistic novels coming out every month.  We all know that the real is a boring dead end; just watch reality television.

In Greek mythology, both the Fates and the Furies were women.  The Fates are a group of women, usually three, who weave the tapestry which determines the lives of men.  The Furies on the other hand are the infernal goddesses, the angry ones, who punish wrongdoers on Earth as well as the damned in Hell.

The novel ‘Fates and Furies’ is the story of a married couple, Lotto and Mathilde.  The first half of the novel, ‘Fates’, is mainly Lotto’s story.   Mathilde, the love of Lotto’s life, is there more as a helpmate than anything else.  We learn very little about her history in the ‘Fates’ section of the novel.

“Paradox of marriage: You can never know someone entirely; you do know someone entirely.”   

However a woman does also have a history.  The ‘Furies’ section of the novel is mainly Mathilde’s story, and what a story it is.

‘Fates and Furies’ is a performance.  As well as one of the main characters [Lotto] being an actor / playwright, the novel is filled with artifice ranging from the Greek myths and tragedies to Shakespeare.  When today so much of literature is realistic and naturalistic to the point of plainness, Lauren Groff strives for something bigger and brighter, more mythic than that, and succeeds.  Also a manic energy, a liveliness, and an inventiveness infuse her writing.  ‘Fate and Furies’ was a delight for me.

The first name Groff mentions in the acknowledgements to ‘Fates and Furies’ is Anne Carson, a writer I much admire who translated the trilogy of ancient Greek tragedies in the Oresteia by Aeschylus and who often incorporates mythology into her poems and other work.

While I was reading ‘Fates and Furies’ I kept thinking about another author, the great Canadian novelist Robertson Davies whose Deptford Trilogy [‘Fifth Business’, ‘The Manticore’, ‘World of Wonders’] is not to be missed by anyone who appreciates fine literature.  Robertson Davies was another writer who put a lot of Greek myth, Shakespeare, and theatre in his novels.

After completing ‘Fates and Furies’, I decided to google ‘Lauren Groff   Robertson Davies’ to see if there was any connection between the two of them.  I came up with only one connection between the two authors.  In an article in the New Yorker from 2011, Lauren Groff discusses what she was going to read that summer:

“Half of my collection is pretty random, books that I’ve picked up at the local library sale (an extensive collection of Barbara Pym and Robertson Davies, despite the fact I’ve never read a word by either writer.)”    

After noticing the similarities between ‘Fates and Furies’ and Robertson Davies’ fiction, I strongly expect that Groff has read Davies since 2011.

‘Fates and Furies’ is a novel that goes into my “Don’t Miss” category.


Grade:    A   


6 responses to this post.

  1. I like the sound of this, and I’ve ordered it. It was the reference to Robertson Davies that convinced me, I haven’t read the Deptford Trilogy but I read the Cornish Trilogy when What’s Bred in the Bone was nominated for the Booker.
    Obviously I should read the Deptford Trilogy too!
    PS Agree entirely about the deadness of so much modern realism. It’s especially drear when it comes from young authors who’ve only ever read YA and know nothing about myth…although it had its limitations there was a lot to be said for a classical education!


    • Hi Lisa,
      I especially detest reality TV, to the point I probably went overboard in criticizing realistic fiction. There have been many realistic novels that have been my favorites. However, some of the ancient Greek tragedies are the best ever written, and Shakespeare’s works contain many allusions to the ancient Greek and Roman myths.
      Originally I had the typical United States education which was really weak on Greek and Roman mythology and history as well as modern European history. I’ve been trying to make up for that ever since.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, as a retired ‘chalkie’ I must remind you that the true sign that your education was a success is the realisation that no education can encompass everything and that you have the skills and capacity to identify what more you need to know and to find it by yourself!
        But you are right, there is great realistic fiction around, the problem lies with novels written by people who have a limited reality themselves, and often they are the ones most hyped and popular because the mass market finds them easy to digest. (I was fascinated by the comment about Fates and Furies at Goodreads from someone who said she didn’t want to read anything ‘anti-marriage’. What kind of person is afraid to read a novel that confronts ‘cheating’ or ‘resentment’ as normal human conditions, eh?)
        Anyway, IMO people who lead smug, complacent lives have no business writing novels because they have nothing worthwhile to say. It is the quest to transcend the ordinary that makes the novel sublime but that doesn’t happen just because a naïve author invests the ordinary with labels drawn from Psychology 101!
        Thank goodness for editors who know the difference and for blogs which help us to sort the wheat from the chaff 🙂


        • HI Lisa,
          ‘Chalkie’ is a wonderful descriptive word I had never heard before. I suppose teachers still use chalk even despite all of the new innovations.
          I keep coming back to the word ‘Novel’ as something new and different and not the same old, same old. Of course Greek myths are about as old as you can get, but for us they are new and different. 🙂


          • LOL actually we haven’t had chalk in classrooms for years, but we still call ourselves chalkies:)
            I think there’s no end to how Greek myth can be used in the modern novel, I loved that John Banville one where they turned up at a family gathering in Britain somewhere and interfered with things and squabbled with each other. Banville has a new one out now, The Blue Guitar, I think, I must read that, he’s such an interesting writer…


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