I’ve read a lot of books recently, but two of them struck me as having a common theme; the unseen work done by the partner of a genius.
I had seen Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff all over The Gram and as opinion was divided I decided to read it to make up my own mind. When I posted about it on IG a fair few did say they felt “meh” about it actually but I guess strong opinions are more often shared then being lukewarm about a book.
In any case it is a story told in two parts; first from the perspective of Lotto, the rich man turned playwright phenomena and then from the view of his wife Mathilde; the foundation of his success. Without giving too much away I will say that he believes himself charmed and very able to stand on his own two legs to make it in the world. He does not recognize his privileged starting position or the work put in by the women around him which paves the way for his success. Mathilde obviously has her own story and it is one of hard work I tell you, some of which she is happy to do.
In the end I did like it, but with reservations, and enjoyed the book, it was a compelling read. Some of the sentences are heavily ornate in an effort to impress it seems, it’s very American in many ways (that’s a description not a judgement by the way but it does create distance) and as much as I appreciated the idea of it I wasn’t totally convinced. Worth reading but I’m not sure why people are raving about it.
I did however think about it a lot in the book I read after; Århundradets kärlekskrig by Ebba Witt-Brattström. The titel roughly translates to The love war of the century and it’s the story of a divorce, in the form of a novel in verse. It’s a “He said” “She said” type of thing. I shook my head as the same formulations as in Fates and Furies that turned up. This novel came about after a very public divorce between two of Sweden’s leading intellectuals. Theirs was a charmed marriage. The image was very much one of the Antonia Frasier and Harold Painter-esque variety(which is kind of #relationshipgoals) but if this novel is any indication it was far from it. Once again we have a woman that decided to be “the good wife” and support her husband so he can be a genius without worldly worries. And for that she gets slapped in the face. The things we do for love always come back to haunt us, and we pay for them dearly. In some relations to compromise is to be weak, and being understanding is a one way street.
This book is raw, and the fact that it’s in in verse (albeit not rhymed) just underlines the brutality. It’s interspersed with many a literary reference, old and new. A feminist statement and a very good one. It is an hommage à Märta Tikkanen and August Strindberg. I did read Tikkanen earlier this year in anticipation of reading this book and I will read Strindberg any day now. Any day.
However what I started to think about was this; do we revert to these stereotypes because such is mankind, or do break-ups often follow this pattern because that’s what we are told and shown that a divorce looks like? I saw a play the other year in which the women of the relationship tried to also be an “art monster”(phrase borrowed from Jenny Offills’ The department of speculation) and not managing. Fraser and Pinter seemed to have had a relationships of equals but then money, and already established careers, make everything easier. As we, hopefully, move towards a more gender-equal society what will be the nature of falling out of love? Will we revert to the same behaviour or has feminism shown us another way? Love hurts, and a lack love, or love turned into hate, hurts even more. As much as we ridicule Gwyneth Paltrow for the whole unconscious un-coupling thing, it does seem better then throwing dirt at each other and each other’s friends in public. That said Chris Martin might be penning a “tell-all” as I write this.
Moral of this post? I need to reread Pride and Prejudice to regain my faith in love that’s what.