This novel has single-handedly lifted my spirits and carried me through this fourth week of lockdown blues here in Sydney. I don’t know how or why it took me six years to encounter Lauren Groff and this book in particular, except that it couldn’t have come into my life at a better time.
It’s the story of a marriage told across three decades. Hidden in plain sight, in the space between the words, is another story about that same marriage. This latter secret history lays bare the entire charade of the male gaze, internalized by writers and readers through centuries of patriarchal framing, unconscious bias and casual misogyny.
It’s a book that adds up to more than the sum of its parts, yet each part is a dazzling set piece. The first few years of the marriage, for example, are described through the prism of an annual party, the gatherings strung together like fairy lights spanning youthful idealism and middle-aged ennui. What would have filled an anodyne sixty second montage in a movie comes to life here in dense, sharply observed moments - each feels it could have been its own book - pregnant with their own future nostalgia.
Fates and Furies is ambitious and confident and impeccably structured. Every other sentence carries a novel idea, each one a sharpened dart, clichés punctured like funfair balloons. It’s overwritten but I wouldn’t remove a single word. It’s pretentious but generously so. It’s joyfully divisive and full of insightful contradictions. It plays with readers’ expectations but each explosive twist in the tale provokes thought rather than the Ohs and Ahs of narrative fireworks.
Feverish, I stopped every few pages to scribble urgent notes, possessed by the zeal and inspiration of a convert. Revisiting them now, out of context, they read like the 3am bedside recollections of a fast vanishing dream, which in the harsh morning light reveal only trite banalities.
Not a review, then, just an attempt to convey the rush of awe one feels after accidentally stumbling upon an artwork that has improbably reached into the very depths of one’s soul and uprooted a nasty weed that for years had been parading as a flower.