FATES AND FURIES by Lauren Groff (Riverhead), 400 pages, $33.50 cloth. Rating: NNNNN
I'd hoped to begin my review of Fates And Furies by introducing Lauren Groff's novel as the winner of the U.S. National Book Award. But the jury awarded the prize to Adam Johnson's Fortune Smiles instead.
I admit I haven't read the winning book, but it must be pretty awesome, because Fates And Furies is a knockout.
The narrative is expertly crafted, unfolding in two sections that together create a rich portrait of a marriage. The first, Fates, is told from the point of view of the aptly named Lotto, who's born into a wealthy family, has personal charisma and, though he fails in his first career as an actor, finds fame and fortune as a playwright.
The second half, Furies, takes the point of view of his adoring wife, Mathilde, and fills in some of the first section's blanks. Reading it feels like the literary equivalent of experiencing a complex Lego sculpture snapping together. At the same time, both Lotto and Mathilde come into fuller focus. They're superbly drawn characters, he an uncomplicated innocent, she a loving wife, yes, but the kind of woman who likes to settle scores.
Groff gives a vivid account of what it's like to both struggle and succeed in the theatre. She understands the importance of community but equally gets the interplay between an artist's ego and desperation. And in a revelatory sequence in which Lotto collaborates on an opera with an elusive composer, she gives a lesson in how to portray the emotional complexity of the creative process.
Throughout, plot points are developed and then abandoned, we get but a quick glimpse of a character, a reference - to Shakespeare or a Greek classic - is dropped in out of nowhere. You wonder: is all this intentional?
The answer is a resounding yes.
This is the best novel I've read this year
See my Q&A with Groff at nowtoronto.com/books.