#TheEverygirlReads: No Thanks, ‘Fates and Furies’

Well, my friends and fellow readers, we knew the day would come eventually: my first truly negative book review. 

I set out to read Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff in the month of May, after hearing several positive reviews via The New York Times Best Seller List. The book follows the marriage of seemingly perfect couple Lotto and Mathilde, exploring what it takes to make a marriage seem perfect. Supposedly, it is riveting contemporary fiction (a la Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train), but with more poetic prose and “literary” style. 

I try to like every single book I read. I try to start new books with a positive mindset, because in the end my goal is to read more books and encourage other women to do the same. 

That’s why Fates and Furies was especially disappointing, because even with all of that mental effort, I still couldn’t bring myself to like the characters or their storylines. 

But first, let me mention some of the things I thought were good about the book, before I so thoughtfully destroy it.

1. The book’s brutally honest take on marriage was shocking and refreshing.

I’ve been married for five years. While we’re still madly in love and have a healthy, functioning partnership, I have no illusions about what a hard marriage may look like. Still, I have rarely (if ever) seen real, honest-to-God representations of these struggles portrayed in media. While sometimes things felt over the top, there were parts of the book in which Groff perfectly encapsulates the rarely-spoken-of dynamics of committing yourself to someone forever.

2. There were moments the (otherwise pretentious) prose truly succeeded.

The book uses flashy, sometimes obnoxiously flowery language that had me rolling my eyes way back into my head at least every other page. However, there were perhaps five or six times a particularly poignant paragraph just punched me in the gut. If the book could have been reworked to focus more on these elements, I feel as though it would have been much more successful.

 One phrase in particular really caught me: “Great swaths of her life were white space to her husband. What she did not tell him balanced neatly with what she did. Still, there are untruths made of words and untruths made of silence, and Mathilde had only ever lied to Lotto in what she never said.”

3. That’s honestly all I’ve got. Now, on to the bad. 

As I mentioned earlier, Groff uses prose that is bloated and overwritten so you can sense its desperation to be a literary masterpiece in every page. I’m all for a few fanciful descriptions here and there, but it’s hard to stay on board when greeted with asides such as this every few pages: “Her mother had smelled of cold and scales, her father of stone dust and dog. She imagined her husband’s mother, whom she had never met, had a whiff of rotting apples, although her stationery had stunk of baby powder and rose perfume. Sallie was starch, cedar. Her dead grandmother, sandalwood. Her uncle, Swiss cheese. People told her she smiled like garlic, like chalk, like nothing at all. Lotto, clean as camphor at his neck and belly, like electrified pennies at the armpit, like chlorine at the groin.”

Later on, a character contemplates the night sky, thinking “…there the moon was, glowering. Fickle, inconstant, that monthly changes in her circle orb.” 

Paragraphs such as these would be tolerable if at the heart of it all were dynamic, likeable characters—but this is definitely not the case. In Gone Girl (which this book is often compared to because of the husband-to-wife shift in perspective halfway through) there were, at the very least, shreds of humanity in both main characters that helped you love to hate them.

In Furies, both Lotto and Mathilde are pretty reprehensible. Their world is one of wealth and extreme privilege and they stay completely unaware of this, behaving at (all times) as though their lives are the sun and the rest of the solar system simply revolves around them. It’s difficult for me to list clear examples of this without blatant spoilers, but I think their behavior makes that pretty clear from the start. 

In my opinion, this book gets a hard no. There were too many major roadblocks in Furies to keep me from enjoying it. 

But, like I said, it’s just my opinionpeople I consider smarter than me say they love it. If you disagree completely with me, feel free to bash my judgment in the comments. 

And what about June?

For the month of June, I am SO EXCITED to be reading The House on Mango Street.

I picked this book for a couple of reasons: It’s easy and light, the perfect read when hitting the pool or beach; it’s a classic I think a lot of us have heard of and want to read, but never got around to; and within its quick-to-read, enjoyable stories are lessons of feminism and what it means to be a woman coming of age in a world built for you to fail. I’m only two chapters in as I write this, but I have loved every page.

As always, reach out on Twitter or Instagram with #TheEverygirlReads if you want to chat all things literature.

What are you reading in June? Start a discussion in the comments! 

  • thepageworm.com

    Hi! This is my photo- please credit me! http://www.thepageworm.com Thanks!

    • So very sorry that happened! A direct link has been added… thank you for being understanding.

  • Bridget

    Ugh I just finished Fates and Furies, and I completely agree with you, Daryl! I don’t mind books with “unlikeable” characters, but I couldn’t believe this book got all the praise it did with such a forced plot and so much purple prose. Spoiler alert — when Lotto “realized” Mathilde was a virgin, I placed a bet with myself that later it would be revealed she simply got her period. I absolutely loved The House on Mango Street, though.

  • Kay

    I have also read Fates and Furies and agree with your review completely! Currently I am reading the new Nora Roberts book The Obsession, I’m about half way through and I’m loving it!

  • This makes me so happy! I was feeling guilty and like a “bad” reader because all the literary people I know loved this book. I consider myself literary, and I did not enjoy it at all. I thought the writing was distracting, like maybe she was trying too hard to be profound, and I didn’t really feel invested in any of the characters. So glad to see another reader agrees!

  • Kyle Allen

    So glad I passed on Fates. But The House on Mango Street is one of my absolute favorites! I think I may just have to pick it up again.

  • Rachel

    I’m so happy someone else feels the same as I did about this book. It was president Obama’s favorite book of 2015, so I felt down on myself when I finished the book without falling in love with it. However, I do agree that some paragraphs left a profound impact on me-so much so that I find myself referencing them frequently!

  • Jennifer Rodda

    Thank you. Thank you. I am still working through this book and would have ordinarily given up by now if it weren’t for the fact that this is my first attempt at any sort of book club reading. I just don’t like it and don’t care about the characters at all. I’m going to still try to finish it. *try*

  • A

    Oh. Thank. God. I’m so glad someone else thought this was dreck. Your review honestly made my day!

  • Mac

    Thank you for an honest review! I had added this book to the my summer reading list and am definitely now reconsidering. It’s so important to challenge the “hype” in the world and I appreciate that you did. Some of the books on my list this month…David and Goliath (Malcolm Gladwell), The Argonauts (Maggie Nelson), The Opposite of Loneliness (Marina Keegan) and My Brilliant Friend (Elena Ferrante). I will have to look into The House on Mango Street!

  • Abby Nyquist

    So agree! I’ve been trying to like this book and just can’t!! Thanks for the honest review!

  • Paige Ashley Smith

    Oh wow, I completely disagree with you. I really loved this book. The staccato pace of the language took me a while to adjust to at first, but I didn’t think it was pretentious or overwritten at all. I thought it was poetic and striking. Groff described ordinary things in ways I would never have thought to before. A lake, for example, is “poxed by the touch of scattered rain.” That strikes me as beautiful, damn good writing, not pretentiousness. I found myself having plenty of empathy for the characters too, not being disgusted by them. Sure, they made decisions I wouldn’t make, but that’s what made for an interesting character. Someone far removed from myself in behavior but whom I could relate to or empathize with in the small moments. One other point: they aren’t blinded by wealth. Mathilde grows up extremely poor and constantly struggling until she meets Lotto. Even then, his mother disowns him so they are a very broke, struggling couple for many, many years before the success of his writing enables them to lead a different lifestyle. Sorry to hear you hated it so much!

    • Alexandra Donald

      I agree! I loved her writing. Lyrical but not overwrought and definitely unique stylistically. I found that some elements of Mathilde’s plot stretched my credulity but that was my only nitpick. I actually liked the characters even though I don’t always look for characters I like or even understand. I think that’s part of why I read; to get a glimpse into other ways of looking at the world.

    • Laura

      Agree completely. I also think that simply not liking the characters (and for reasons that I think demonstrate a lack of understanding of the actual message of the book) is a really ignorant reason not to like a book.

  • Sara

    I LOVED Fates and Furies and rolled my eyes at Gone Girl.

    On the other hand, I’m a huge fan of Mango Street (poetic, important).

    • Charlotte

      I agree – I thought this book was incredible and honestly this is the first negative review I’ve read! I suppose people who only read chick lit and beach reads may not enjoy it, but I prefer books you actually get something out of. Also, the Gone Girl comparison is PREPOSTEROUS!!! That book was a quick mindless read – this book is on a whole different level!! Lauren Groff is an amazing writer.

      • Rosana Ladik

        Maybe it wasn’t meant to be as much of an insult as it sounded (“I suppose people who only read chick lit and beach reads may not enjoy it”), but I just had to comment that, in my opinion, both Gone Girl (soap opera-y cardboard characters, metaphors and similes that made no sense, ludicrous plot line and ridiculous, cartoonish scenes) and Fates and Furies (all the bad things Gone Girl exhibited multiplied exponentially) displayed all the worst in modern fiction striving to attain the status of literature by pretentiously throwing in metaphors and similes even though they make no sense. These books may be “popular”, but they are not literature. And, again, in my opinion, anyone who “prefers books you actually get something out of” reads Maugham, Hardy, Dickens, Khalid Hosseini, Trollope, Austen, Beryl Markham, Thackeray, Steinbeck or Tolstoy. Definitely not either Gone Girl or Fates and Furies, which were both ostentatiously decorated piles of crap. Yet still piles of crap. Just my opinion.

  • Thank you for this, including specific examples. I rolled my eyes just reading that example!

  • Megan

    I really like this book, but it is one that I recommend you listen to on audio instead of read. I could see how this could get really annoying if you are reading it, but the people that read for the two characters in the audio version add SO much more to the story. If I would have read it I probably would have skipped a lot of the more descriptive parts. This book isn’t for everyone!

  • Anna Livingston

    “Reprehensible” is the perfect word to describe these characters. This review is everything I wanted to say to people but couldn’t! Thank you. I thought I was the only one.

  • donna w.

    Thanks for sharing! I’ve been going back on forth on whether I should read this one.

    Recent favourite reads:

    Alice & Oliver by Charles Bock
    The Accident by Chris Pavone
    The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell
    The Summer of Good Intentions by Wendy Francis (This was a re-read. It was one of my favourite reads of 2015 and it was just as good the second time around!)

    This summer, I am most excited to read:

    I Let You go by Clare Mackintosh
    Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
    No One Knows by J.T. Ellison
    Food and the City by Ina Yalof
    A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams

    Happy reading!

  • Mar

    Just a note on Lauren Groff’s prose:

    Continuing on the themes of story telling, Lotto’s career, and how often we rewrite events in our lives, much of the writing included subtle allusions to Shakespeare and Greek theatre. One of the examples of text that you disliked – “…there the moon was, glowering. Fickle, inconstant, that monthly changes in her circle orb” – is actually a reference to Romeo and Juliet, act II scene 2: “O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon, / That monthly changes in her circled orb, / Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.”

    Obviously, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Hoping that this understanding may help some readers enjoy the writing a little more!

  • Could not agree more! I am reading the book right now (currently 20 pages from being finished), and I also review books on my blog, so I have been trying to put my feelings about this book into words almost the entire time I have been reading it. It’s hard to describe why I was so annoyed and unimpressed with this book, but you really said it perfect.

    Aimee
    http://www.intherightplaces.com

  • Carrie

    Thank you! I tried to read this book months ago because everyone was saying it was amazing. I made it a few chapters in a quit. So glad to know it wasn’t just me.

  • Me Fitness Lifestyle

    I really like that way you propose a book to your subscribers and give your opinion on it after a month. Do you think I can mention your idea on my blog and propose it too but by saying that it’s from you and but the link of your blog in my article?

  • MegAnne

    I completely agree. Reading her book left me feeling like I was in that scene from Friends where Joey wrote a letter to the adoption committee for Monica and Chandler but wanted to sound “smart” so he used a thesaurus for every single word. I flat out quit after a single chapter (which is something I would NEVER do!) If I may humbly make a recommendation, please read A Man Called Ove. I am an avid reader and this is the BEST book I have read in the past 5 years. Hands. Down. It is heart warming and perfect in every way. The author is the exact opposite of Groff, he is able to convey heart breaking passion and inspiration in as few words as possible. His sentences resonate with you long after you finish the page because each word bears a beautiful message. PS Great Blog, quickly becoming a weekly read for me!

  • Rosana Ladik

    “I try to like every single book I read.”

    I think it’s admirable to go into anything – every situation – with an open mind, but that doesn’t mean you have to like or enjoy everything you experience, or even that you should try to like the experience. If riding the teacups or the roller coaster makes you vomit, then that’s your experience. And just because a book (or tv show or movie, etc.) is popular, doesn’t make it well-written or thoroughly researched or carefully planned or beautifully executed or memorable or thought-provoking or heartfelt.

    It seems to me, nowadays, popular books are hyped prior to release, most of the time by the publishers. They make sure there’s a buzz created before the book is released, which then leads to more early sales and press releases are sent out, adding to the hype. Maybe my bar is just set very high, but the popular books so rarely live up to either the hype or the standards set by the literary artists of the past, whereas books are published every day that fly under the radar because there was no hype, and many times they are beautifully-written and memorable and come far closer to being tomorrow’s classics than the paperbacks fleetingly adorning the “Top Ten” lists.

    So, your opinion is what it is and that you tried to like Fates and Furies is admirable and shows you have patience.

    In a long life of reading, it is only the second book ever that I was unable to finish.

  • Genevieve C.

    Loved the House on Mango Street- an all time classic for people of all ages. You won’t be disappointed.

  • Haley Vickery

    I have not been able to even finish Fates and Furies because I dislike it so much. Thank you for your honest review!