Saturday, January 16, 2016

Portrait of a union

Words are not losing its significance despite the usage of emoticons and creation of emojis. Words are for articulating one’s thoughts and expressing one’s sentiments. There are different words to describe ambivalence, conflicts and turmoil and they cannot be represented by sheer emoticons. Stories are told with words and there are different ways of telling them. Some fictions are told to entertain, some fictions are told to stir your mind and make you ponder about the characters and get a hold of  your empathy even if you do not find the characters all that  likeable.

When I first read about the release of Fates and Furies, I was intrigued and could not wait to read the fiction although I had never read any writing by its author, Lauren Groff. I was disappointed when I had difficulties getting engaged with the prose which is actually stylish. It could be due to my work load at the time and all that frenzy that was happening at the end of the year, I was too distracted to enjoy it. I brought the novel with me on the year end trip I took with my family and made very little progress. After ploughing through more than half of the book, the characters became more apparent and they are complex and you begin to empathize with their angst and vanity. Mathilde, the female protagonist is tough for self- protection and she is a smart and intelligent woman who holds the marriage together to the envy of others. Such a female character in real life will probably appear cold and  calculating but in a fiction, you cannot help feeling sorry for her when you find out about her childhood and her desperate need to belong to someone. Imagine a loner who has to hide her venomous self and lead a life full of vengeance beneath her.

MATHILDE WAS NOT UNFAMILIAR with grief. The old wolf had come sniffing around her house before.
She had one picture of herself from when she was tiny.
Her name had been Aurélie. Fat cheeks, gold hair. The only child in a large Breton family. Her bags clipped from her face in a barrette, scarves on her neck, lacy socks to her ankles. Her grandparents fed her galettes, cider, caramels with sea salt. The kitchen had rounds of Camembert ripening in the cabinet. It would knock you down to open the door, unsuspecting.’

Lauren Groff’s style of writing is not easy to follow in the beginning but as the story unfolds in  a random manner and not in chronological order , you will find that her prose is beautiful and you would like to read the earlier chapters again. It feels like doing a jigsaw puzzle as you put together all the interesting parts.

Here is another excerpt from the book.

 ONE DAY, the little girl she once was , small Aurélie , found herself with a blue suitcase in her hand and her hair scraped back from her face. She must have been five or six.
 “You’ re off to your Paris grandmother’s,” her tall Breton grandmother said. There had always been something off about the Paris grandmother, something embarrassing; her own mother had never spoken of her; they had rarely talked on the phone. Aurelie had never met her. There were never pretty parcels from that grandmother on her saint’s day.
   They were standing in the aisle of a train. The grandmother’s frown stretched to her second chin. “ Your mother’s mother was the only relative who would take you,” she said.
Mathilde is married to Lotto aka Lancelot Satterwhite whose acting career is not going well until one New Year’s Eve when she discovers that Lotto has written a play that has ‘the bones of a marvel in it’.  As he becomes a playwright, she assumes the role of the perfect wife who is extremely supportive of  his artistic talent and writing pursuits. Lotto’s character alternates between depression and manic energy. His wealthy family believes that he is destined to be great but his relationship with his mother is estranged. Against Lotto’s self-centredness, Mathilde appears self sacrificing and never unkind.

YOU’RE A PATHOLOGICAL TRUTH-TELLER,” Lotto once said to her, and she laughed and conceded that she was. She wasn’t sure just then if she was telling the truth or if she was lying.

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 silences, and Mathilde had only ever lied to Lotto in what she never said.

She didn’t tell him that she never minded being the breadwinner during the long span of their twenties, even the poverty, even the skipped lunches and the suppers of rice and beans, even the shifting of money from one tiny account to pay off the most pressing bills, even accepting mney from Lotto’s little sister, who gave it because she was one of the few people in the world who were truly good. His gratitude for what he thought was Mathilde’s sacrifice indebted him to her.’

As a title for the book,  Fates and furies is spot on. The story is about  feminine fury and repressed anger. It  does carry the undertone that  life is unkind to a girl who does not follow rules and being canny is how  a woman  keeps a marriage in place.

The author quotes from the Little Prince ,
  ‘Where are the people? said Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince. It’s a little lonely in the desert. ..
It’s lonely when you’re among people, too, said the snake.’

The world  is made of sad stories, many evil people and some not so evil not so bad people and very few very good people. Life is complicated.

San Sebastián 

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