“I turned to her. Her face looked small and rigid and miserable. We hugged. I held her close and too long. ‘I don’t want to let you go,’ I breathed in her ear. But I did. I let her go. And they boarded the ship.”
Fen and Nell are anthropologists studying tribes in New Guinea in 1933. After studying multiple tribes, the married couple can’t seem to find a place they like or isn’t overwhelmingly barbaric. Until they happen on an old friend, Bankson, who is desperate for company. The three develop an unlikely friendship and make huge developments in their work. While they are lost in the haze of discovery, Bankson and Nell develop a tense sort of relationship. All the while, Fen notices but never says anything. It is a strained sort of love triangle, which ultimately ends in heartbreak and mystery.
I enjoyed this novel and the interesting setting it presented. The humans our three characters study took on a huge role in this book, and I could tell King spent a lot of time researching New Guinea and the culture there in the 1930s. I also appreciated that the story was based off Margaret Mead and her own love triangle. Even though this is a work of fiction, I felt it deepened my understanding of anthropology and the history of New Guinea.
I would have liked for the relationships to develop deeper. I wanted more between Bankson and Nell. I wanted more conflict between Bankson and Fen. I wanted Nell to stand up for herself. I finished the novel, and found myself asking, “That’s it?” I would have liked to see more exploration in each separate relationship.
Lotto and Mathilde are like every young, married couple–living cheaply, struggling just to make ends meet. Just out of college, they decide to marry after two weeks of knowing each other. Even though all their friends and family believe it will never last, somehow, it does. Told through dual perspectives, we get Lotto’s side of the story first. We learn Lotto comes from money, but is disinherited after marrying Mathilde. We learn about his family and upbringing. And towards the end of his life, secrets began to unravel about Mathilde. In Mathilde’s perspective, she does all she can to support her husband, working hard and taking care of their small apartment, while Lotto figures out his life as an actor. As time and their relationship goes on, we start to see their relationship in a new light. What secrets could be lurking behind their marriage?
I liked the premise of Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies. There was the mystery behind Lotto and Mathilde’s relationship–how did two young 22-year-olds, who only knew each other for two weeks, make a relationship work as well as they do?–but ultimately, I found the plot lacking in excitement. F&F is compared to the likes of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, but I believe that’s a weak comparison. There is no spark in this novel, no moment of, “Holy sh*t!” where the readers realize something vital they’ve been missing the whole time. And even though a secret does reveal itself at the end, it comes a little too late in the story. I never found myself wondering about the credibility of the characters. I didn’t particularly like either Mathilde or Lotto. I was annoyed by Mathilde’s lying. I was annoyed by Lotto’s lazy attitude. I was annoyed throughout the entire novel–not angry, or shocked, or upset–just annoyed. With so many ways this story could have played out, I would have liked something with a little more mystery, a little more oomph to it.