The story of a relationship told from two perspectives? Charting their lives over 20-odd years, from an initial meeting as idealistic students to the disappointments and daily trifles of mid-life? Been there, done that – right? Well, no. Fates and Furies might sound like it is charting similar territory to David Nicholls’ bestseller One Day or Laura Barnett’s The Versions of Us, but Lauren Groff’s new novel is a darker, more complicated read. It’s a book that is less bothered about pulling at the heartstrings or tantalising the reader, and far more interested in exploring the compromises made to keep a marriage alive.
Lotto and Mathilde are the picture of young love in bohemian New York, or so we are told; him tall and athletic, breaking hearts as easily as he breathes; her a little affected, but generally good-natured, if more detached than her gregarious husband. When they marry after a whirlwind romance, their friends bicker about whether the couple will make it for the long haul. And as we come to learn, the fates are not necessarily in their favour.
Lotto’s story is the first to be told, and it’s an engaging read; we follow him from a contented infancy as the apple of his mother’s eye to a delinquent adolescence, and from early career strife to the point at which he finds finding his purpose. Because we are treated to his account first, it is only later that we understand how Mathilde has engineered much of what has gone on between them – and why she has chosen to do so. ‘All along she had held within her a second story underneath the first,’ thinks Mathilde in the final pages of the novel; that tale is one that will keep you gripped until the end. It’s a fascinating study of how relationships are sustained and sacrificed, and, although Groff veers occasionally towards the pretentious, it is sumptuously written at every turn. For an autumn read to get firmly stuck into, look no further.
If thrillers are your guilty pleasure, the latest novel to be marketed as ‘the new Gone Girl /Girl on the Train’ is Please Don’t Leave Me Here, by Australian author Tania Chandler. Brigitte is a happily married thirtysomething with two children and an only slightly concerning daytime drinking habit. But something in her past is about to move firmly into her present – if only she could remember what happened before that car crash or why 13 years later she can’t get Kurt Cobain’s face out of her dreams. If it sounds schlocky and silly, it is, with plenty of sex and scandal to boot – but then, that’s the pleasure of the genre, and Chandler serves it up with panache. I read it in a day, lapping up the twists and turns of Brigitte’s champagne-infused ‘flashback’. Good fun for a rainy afternoon.
Slightly more literary, and a must-read ahead of this year’s Man Booker prize announcement, is The Year of the Runaways. Sunjeev Sahota’s second book follows three Indian men forging undercover, undocumented lives in Britain. They are desperate for work, hungry to stay out of sight of the authorities, and all have strong reasons for fleeing their homes in search of the illusory ‘something better’. Flitting between the misery and uncertainty of the present in Sheffield, where exploitation is routine and fear is constant for each of the men, and their poverty-stricken hometowns in India, what is most compelling is the interplay between the men, and the study of what desperation can do to a person. Add into the mix a woman who has entered a visa-marriage, and it’s an altogether heart-wrenching read. By the end, as their luck starts to run out, I could barely put it down. Whether it will win the top prize is anyone’s guess, but it more than deserves its place in the running.
Lastly, for a story to take you back to the bright summer days, try Alice Hoffman’s A Marriage of Opposites (out now), a fictionalised retelling of the family life of French impressionist Camille Pissarro. In Hoffman’s version, Camille’s mother Rachel is a feisty, empowered woman, out of place in the 18th century, and especially so in the stifling Jewish community on the Caribbean island of St Thomas. Her marriage to Parisian émigré Frederic ignites a scandal, one that she navigates with the same composure and confidence that will one day set her son against her. At times a frothy love story, it is elevated by Rachel being a magnificent, vividly drawn heroine who you can’t help but root for. It’ll leave you dreaming of packing your bags for an island in the sun – with a suitcase full of books, of course.