I know I’m late to reading this one. Fates and Furies had its moment in 2015. It was hyped. Then it was Obama’s favourite novel of the year. Then it was hyped even more. But somehow, probably in a stupor of Early Modern essays I missed it.

2 years on, it’s still fantastic. Fates and Furies is a tale of halves, in terms of both content and structure, a marriage. Groff has been applauded for her honest take on her subject matter, and while I’ve never been married I would wholeheartedly agree that her portrayal of the tensions of relationships in real, every day, life is completely, and believably, human.

Groff’s choice to write her novel in two halves isn’t revolutionary but it is rarely done so well. As you read, it just makes sense. The second point of view adds so much to the novel and to the richness of the characters. By the time you reach the half way point, you are so invested in Matilde and Lotto, you’re so close to their story, it doesn’t feel like a radical shift or turn but just a step deeper into their relationship.

At the time of its release, Fates and Furies was frequently set alongside Gone Girl. Both are tales of complicated marriages, both are populated by flawed occasionally caustic characters, both are real page turners. But Fates and Furies isn’t really a thriller, it couldn’t be made into the same kind of box office smash as its bedfellow. It’s just that bit more domestic, that bit more internal.

I will say, however, that some of it’s literary-ness felt a little forced to me. Certain sections (without spoiling it) felt structurally shoehorned in to look clever and some passages of prose felt overblown past the point of being the good kind of rich description. Those sections didn’t mar my enjoyment of the novel, but this wouldn’t have been an honest review without my noting them.

Fates and Furies was in equal parts devastating and enthralling. There’s just something about the way Groff’s characters feel like they’ve grown rather than been crafted and the way that she makes you question the subjectivity of truth in all things, but especially relationships.

SOME QUESTIONS TO PONDER AS YOU READ

  • What effect do the narratorial asides have on your reading experience?
  • Do you ultimately side with one half of the marriage over the other?
  • How do you think the story would have unfolded differently if Matilde had told her half of the story first? Where do you think your sympathies would lie?
  • Did you enjoy the play sections of the novel? If so why and what did they add?
  • Certain images are repeated throughout the novel, which ones can you remember? Did you find that those repeated images helped tie the two halves of the novel together at all?


IF YOU WANT SOME FURTHER READING TRY…

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If you need something to mark your place when you read Fates and Furies, you can download and print the bookmark above for free.

Read the first Book Club for Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal

To keep my to my resolution of reading more books this year and inspired by the Lars Book Club and my new found love of Ariel Bissett, I thought I’d start a little bit of a book club. Every month I’m planning on writing a review of a book I’ve read this year, accompanied with a bit of design work, some food for thought, and further recommendations if you like what you’ve read.

I thought there was no better way to start than with the book I read at least once every year Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal. If asked I’m not sure I would say it’s my favourite book because I’m far to indecisive to commit to a favourite book, but it’s probably up there. At only 112 pages long it’s quick enough to finish in one sitting but complex enough to read over and over again.

Alternative book cover design for Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal

My alternative cover for the novel inspired by the crushing weight of the paper press and the texture of ink on worn paper.

Set in Prague at a time of communist censorship, Too Loud a Solitude is the story of Hanta an old hermit of a man who has spent his life compacting wastepaper and books. Hanta tells his own story in first person throughout the novel, meandering through his youth and minutiae of his day to day life. There’s a mix of absurd comedy and literary musings, as well as a political subplot that seems unavoidable given the book’s setting.

Hrabal’s story pulls you in as a pair open arms. On the one side, you have a human interest piece all about an old man struggling to keep up with a changing world. On the other, there’s a celebration of literature, of Hanta’s defiance to keep the written word alive in the bales and in his mind. In short, it’s about the mortality of man and the immortality of literature, and their unbreakable bond. If that sounds a bit too pretentious, it is also just a story about a weird old man.

I think this little book has a lot of appeal for almost everyone but particularly those who have an interest in all things literary or anyone who wants to learn more about a lesser discussed bit of European history.

SOME QUESTIONS TO PONDER AS YOU READ…

  • Hanta repeats the refrain “for thirty-five years now I’ve been compacting wastepaper and books” throughout the book, what effect does that have on your reading experience?
  • Hrabal’s style has been described as one of digressions, how do the wanderings of Hrabal’s style reflect the wanderings of an old man’s mind?
  • Too Loud a Solitude is both personal and political, did one message resonate with you more than the other?
  • Hrabal’s writing is very much rooted in a certain time and place, do you think that Hanta’s story can transcend that setting? If so how?
  • After reading about Hanta’s love of books and fight to keep them whole, how do you reflect on your own access to books and interest in literature?

    IF YOU WANT SOME FURTHER READING TRY…

    IF YOU WANT MORE BOOKS A BIT LIKE THIS THEN HAVE A LOOK AT…

If you’re planning on reading Too Loud a Solitude and need something to mark your place, you can download and print the bookmark above for free here.