Why Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff Left Me Utterly Conflicted

Fates and Furies, Lauren GroffFiction
Released September 15, 2015
400 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Riverhead) via NetGalley


The first section (Fates) was a 2 or 3 star slog, but the second section (Furies) is unquestionably a 5 star read. Overall, pushing through the beginning was worth it for me and I’m adding it to my Book Club Recommendation List.

Plot Summary

The story of the marriage of Lotto, a gregarious aspiring actor from a wealthy background, and Mathilde, a mysterious model he met in college, told first from Lotto’s perspective, then from Mathilde’s.

Why I Read It

The Riverhead rep at BEA’s Book Group Speed Dating event sold the living daylights out of this novel. It was the book I was most excited about coming out of BEA.

Major Themes

Marriage, differing perspectives, secrets/betrayal

What I Liked

  • I love the overall theme of differing perspectives, particularly as it relates to a marriage. Groff deftly shows how one person’s background can shape his/her perspective on events…sometimes ending up with a vastly different interpretation than others. 
  • Lotto’s version of his life with Mathilde (Fates) seems fairly normal and even uneventful, but things completely turn on their heads once you switch to Mathilde’s perspective (Furies). So many times, I was left astounded at what had really gone on.
  • Though it took me awhile to get there, I had a very hard time putting the book down by the end.
  • This is a book that has me thinking and pondering and I feel like it will stick with me for a long time.
  • The writing started out a bit terse and I initially had trouble getting into the flow. But, as the story moves along, the writing ends up being absolutely glorious. I was highlighting like crazy by the end.

They handed over spider plants in terra-cotta, six-packs, books, bottles of wine. Yuppies in embryo, miming their parents’ manners. In twenty years, they’d have country houses and children with pretentious literary names and tennis lessons and ugly cars and liaisons with hot young interns. Hurricanes of entitlement, all swirl and noise and destruction, nothing at their centers.

What I Didn’t Like

  • This book started very slowly for me. The first half (maybe even 60%) really meandered and I wondered when it would get to a point. Honestly, I considered putting it down multiple times in the first half and probably would have had I not been so excited about it going in. I’d probably give the Fates section 2 or 3 stars at most.
  • This might be one of the only books where I’ve been glad I knew a bit about the story before reading it (usually, I like to know as little as possible). The only thing keeping me going was knowing that the story turned on its head once you got to Mathilde’s perspective.
  • While I realize that setting up Lotto’s perspective of their life was critical to Mathilde’s perspective having impact, I wish the overall book had been more heavily weighted toward Mathilde. She was the more layered, fascinating character that drew me in, yet more of the book’s real estate was devoted to Lotto.
  • For well over half of the book, I felt incredibly distant from the characters. Events that should have gotten a reaction out of me felt ho-hum.

Lingering Questions

  • Was this book a victim of my overly high expectations or did I repeatedly give it a pass in the first half because of those expectations? So, did my expectations save it or kill it?
  • How good does an ending have to be to outweigh a long and slow journey? Clearly, this was one of the books that inspired my recent post on journeys vs. endings.
  • Does the phenomenal 5 star Furies section bring the entire book up to 5 stars, even though the Fates second would only get 2 or 3 stars from me? I pondered this right up until the last minute before posting this review and finally landed on no, but it did kick it up to 4 stars and a “read it” recommendation.

A Defining Quote

Up before Lotto rose a vision of himself as if attached to a hundred shining strings by his fingers, eyelids, toes, the muscles of his mouth. All the strings led to Mathilde’s pointer finger, and she moved it with the subtlest of twitches and made him dance.

Good for People Who Like…

Books about marriage, secrets/betrayal, books that make you think, great writing, mind games

Other Books You May Like

Because of its theme(s) of marriage and differing perspectives within a marriage:
The Wife by Meg Wolitzer

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  1. Kay wrote:

    See I love that you spelled out all the good and all the bad for you. I will admit that often I am guilty of putting down a book that just isn’t doing it for me. I suspect that I miss out on some that way, but honestly, there are so many books I want to sample. I’d like to read this one and will keep your experience in mind. No promises though. LOL

    Posted 9.15.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      I’m usually really bad about putting books down, but one of my 2015 goals was to be quicker to drop a book! But, knowing in advance that something was coming really did keep me going.

      Posted 9.15.15 Reply
  2. Sarah, I was excited about this one, initially, until I started hearing some of the feedback (including yours) and I decided to put it off; based on your description, I’m just not sure I’m willing to struggle through the first 60% – ha! I’m glad it turned around and that you really enjoyed the ending. Right now, I’m so caught up in Bull Mountain that I can’t imagine having to slog through anything!!

    Posted 9.15.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      Yep, the pace of this one is VERY different than Bull Mountain, that’s for sure! And – I’ve heard some bloggers who have loved it and I know Catherine at Gilmore Guide felt similar to me, but she ended up giving it 5 stars based on the second half. Worth giving it a shot if you have some time, though.

      Posted 9.15.15 Reply
  3. I’m pretty intrigued by this one right now, so I can’t wait for my library hold to come in. I love the idea of a story that turns like this and I’m a sucker for books that center on marriage.

    Posted 9.15.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      I’m definitely a sucker for marriage books as well! And this is certainly a story that turns. Hope you get to it!

      Posted 9.15.15 Reply
  4. I’m sorry to hear that the first half of the book was so slow for you. But I have to admit that that has me intrigued. The book is still only on order at my library, but I’m planning to read it when it comes in. Overall, the response to the book seems to be positive, and I’m curious to find out what the twist is.

    Posted 9.15.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      I’ll be really interested to hear others’ thoughts once more people get to it…I’m wondering if I’m more or less alone in my feelings about the first half 🙂

      Posted 9.15.15 Reply
  5. Amanda wrote:

    You have me totally intrigued about this one now. Definitely going on the library list.

    Posted 9.15.15 Reply
  6. I’m pretty excited about this book at the moment. Beside the fact that the author is sort of a “local”, Richard Russo just picked this for the next title of NPR’s morning news book club. His enthusiasm was definitely contagious and I tend to love stories like this anyway.

    Excellent review!

    Posted 9.15.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      Very cool that Groff is local! And I’ll be interested to hear different opinions of it once more people get to it.

      Posted 9.15.15 Reply
      • Janet wrote:

        No one I know has read this book. And I am so confused by the end where Mathilde says she wishes she had just said “sure” when Lotto proposed. So did the marriage never exist?

        Posted 1.11.16 Reply
        • admin wrote:

          Great question and I wish I could remember!! It’s been a few months now since I read it.

          Posted 1.15.16 Reply
        • L wrote:

          I think “sure” reflects the idea that few things in the book were certain – or sure.

          Posted 1.16.16 Reply
          • Jodie wrote:

            I think she wishes she said sure instead of no is because in spite of everything horrible she went through in life, he was the one great thing. She should have just said yes from the start.

            Posted 10.8.16
        • Erica Baccus wrote:

          I just finished reading the book which I loved but have the same question as you do. I have searched the internet and cannot find an answer. It sure seems like she said, “No, ” when he asked her to marry him.

          Posted 2.20.16 Reply
          • admin wrote:

            I wish I could remember! I read it months ago and am a little fuzzy on the details!

            Posted 2.21.16
        • Drew wrote:

          “Sure” was Lotto’s telling of the proposal. Although not true, he told (began to believe?) the story fairly often and she didn’t correct him.

          Posted 4.7.16 Reply
  7. I’m so happy your bottom line was to read it and that you mentioned the first 60% was slow. My book arrived today, and I might have DNF’d it if it’s that slow for that long. I’m glad to know something exciting is waiting for me in the end.

    Posted 9.15.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      I absolutely would have if I didn’t know going in that there was a turn!

      Posted 9.15.15 Reply
  8. Catherine wrote:

    Well done and I don’t disagree. Lotto was boring- I would rather have followed Antoinette’s descent into…whatever. For me, it was the feat of rallying from a blah book into something that I could NOT put down and whose writing I found to be mesmerizing that made it 5 stars. In some ways, it reminded me of A Little Life without the excruciating physical pain.

    Posted 9.15.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      I agree – Lotto was just kind of surface! Interesting…your comparison to A Little Life has me thinking! That definitely didn’t occur to me as I was reading, but I can kind of see it now (secrets in relationships, hiding your past, etc). I loved your review…so eloquent!

      Posted 9.16.15 Reply
  9. susan wrote:

    I’m not sure this one is for me after reading your section on What I Didn’t Like. (the slog particularly.) Though I’m a bit conflicted as I’ve heard she is an amazing writer. Apparently NPR just picked it for its book club read this month and author Richard Russo was talking up this novel very highly. hmm. Sounds like a 2nd half read!

    Posted 9.16.15 Reply
  10. I think you ask a very interesting question about how your expectations influence your reading experience! I feel as though some books manage to hold up to high expectations, but in other cases I wonder if I felt more let-down by a decent book because I expected something spectacular.

    Posted 9.17.15 Reply
  11. This is exactly why I don’t like to read wildly popular books when they’re wildly popular – if I’m less than impressed I don’t know if it’s my high expectations or the book itself and because you can only ever read a book for the first time once, I’ll NEVER KNOW! And that, my friend, is not okay with me. That said, Groff and I are from the same town and I’m definitely going to read this but I will probably wait a bit until the National Book Award coverage dies down (which is why I’m glad I read the Ta-Nehisi Coates book two weeks BEFORE it was listed as a finalist).

    Posted 9.20.15 Reply
  12. Naomi wrote:

    I am reading this book right now, and am still only near the beginning of Lotto’s section. It’s good, but your review explains a lot. I was wondering when it would pick up, and I have also not been too keen on Lotto as a person. Everything that happens in their marriage just makes me wonder what Mathilde could be thinking about all this. I will definitely keep reading – I’m so curious about how it all ends up now! Love your review!

    Posted 9.25.15 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      Thanks so much! I agree – Lotto was a bit of a surface level character to me. But, try to hang on if you can because the Furies section really is fantastic! I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts once you finish!

      Posted 9.25.15 Reply
  13. Rona wrote:

    Your analysis matches mine. I just finished and wrote a review that it started very slow and was hard to connect to for a while. Overall I am glad I read it, but after reading the Slates review and realizing the absurdity of her life, it doesn’t sit as well with me. Also, I wasn’t happy with how similar the one plot point was to The Wife. Maybe I’m not happy overall with the idea that brilliant women manipulate hapless men to be successes.

    Posted 2.6.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      Well, I now need to go read the Slates review! And I thought about The Wife (which I loved) also, but didn’t want to go into that in my review. A bit spoiler-y.

      Posted 2.8.16 Reply
  14. Jennifer wrote:

    I just finished this book and feel a little conflicted by it, as well, but I did enjoy it more than not. I also almost put it down several times during the first half, but I think what kept me going was that I felt like I was reading a work of art, even when the story itself seemed a little dull. I was left with a few unanswered questions at the end, but overall I would recommend reading it.

    Posted 2.21.16 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      Yes! Work of art is a good description! This is one that, in the months since I read it, I’ve thought about re-reading multiple times. It’s definitely stuck with me…despite my frustration with the beginning.

      Posted 2.21.16 Reply

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