Fates and Furies – a Review

Fates and FuriesFates and Furies by Lauren Groff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fates and Furies divided our book group – an even split between those who loved and hated it. I fell into the former camp, as I adored the book.

Lauren Groff’s tale tells the story of a marriage and how different it is to the two protagonists. The first part of the book ‘Fate’ tells the story from the husband’s point of view. Lancelot Satterwhite comes from a wealthy background but manages to alienate himself from his widowed mother. His marriage to Mathilde drives further distance between the two, but after a shaky start to his working life, after his mother cuts him off, Lancelot (or Lotto) discovers a talent for playwriting and establishes a wildly successful career, albeit with a few hiccups along the way.

When he dies, the viewpoint shifts to Mathilde, and it here the book becomes splendid. Nothing that seemed like luck or fate happened to Lotto. His wife was there all the time, working behind the scenes to manipulate circumstances – mostly in Lotto’s favour. She engineered their first meeting and marriage. She put in place obstacles to stop him reconciling with his mother. She re-wrote and edited his plays – a lot of the time he wrote them while drunk, so was unable to tell when Mathilde tidied them up – and she even managed to get his fiercest critic on board. And yet, Mathilde comes across as very sympathetic, a difficult, flawed woman dealing with a hugely ego maniac of a husband. (Who is also pretty likeable, incidentally.)

While my book group felt the writing was beautiful, we differed on our opinions about the story’s sensationalism. Did Mathilde’s story need to be quite so dramatic and terrible? (We later find out she was thrown out of her house as a child by her parents after an accident.) I didn’t mind the dramatisation, but perhaps the really brilliant story is that of two very ordinary people living together for years, and yet not really knowing each other?

There are plenty of twists and turns, and I do love a page-turner so the book appealed to me. I read it in three days. Read it and join the conversation!

View all my reviews

The Refuge

Here’s a flash fiction story about recent events in the UK and my tribute to the victims and the survivors…

Image result for girls using hairsprayThe Refuge

When you opened the door, the smell hit you.

Hairspray, different perfumes and nail varnish – so thick and cloying, you had to breathe through your mouth to stop yourself choking.

Louisa knew the drill when she entered the women’s loos at an Ariana Grande gig, though the same applied to Little Mix, Taylor Swift and any other artist with that fanbase. The toilets swirled with chemicals, excitement and high-pitched chatter.

One group sang Ariana’s final song, miming microphones in front of the mirrors.

The toilets were to prove a refuge. Chemicals, laughter, chatter and finally safety from one with murderous intent.

©Emma Baird 2017

 

And That Includes You, Fatty

Image result for vampire teeth

Picture thanks to Rikard Elofsson

A sample chapter from something I’m working on… (Slight adult content, so stop reading now if you don’t like that kind of thing.)

Her life with Cordelia had been straightforward so far – straightforwardly bloody, the satisfaction of three different, ferocious appetites. Once upon a time, Eve had been meek and mild. Thin and apologetic, her speech was littered with modifiers and qualifiers.

“Do you think… I don’t mind if you’d rather… only if you feel that’s the best idea… well, it’s only a suggestion, I don’t know if I’m really qualified to comment…”

She’d loved those first few months of vampirism. It was all take, take, take. She grabbed people and sucked the life from them, she broke off great slabs of cake and stuffed them into a greedy, gaping mouth, she held the back of her lover’s head in her hands and shoved it between her legs.

Life was very good indeed.

Now? Now it seemed more complicated. Vampires that saw her as different and thus didn’t like her. The mysterious Firm hard on their heels. Some mysterious prophecy she could only guess at. No doubt, it would be your typical prophecy, predicting doom and gloom but worded in an ambiguous way so that believers couldn’t be too disappointed when it didn’t come true.

“I’m Mathilde,” the woman stepped out of the doorway. “Let me look at you, you magnificent creature.”

Aldric and Arnaud frowned at her enthusiasm, Eve noted. Mathilde was an age somewhere between the old man and the young one. She shared Arnaud’s dark hair and swarthy complexion, and his large, almost-black coloured eyes. She was very small, but then Eve remembered reading that the average height of people hundreds of years ago was much shorter than the average height now.

She got to her feet. Again, the clothes were another aspect of vampire life she loved. As a human, Eve stuck to the recommendations for a capsule wardrobe – crisp white shirts, tailored trouser suits, cashmere twin sets and that kind of thing.

Eve the vampire was much more theatrical. “Be a goth!” Cordelia said when they’d both gone shopping for her new, larger body. “You will look incredible!”

Today, she was wearing some of those purchases – a dark-purple velvet Gothic jacket with lace in-sleeves over a calf-length fishtail skirt in the same colour, laced up with ribbons at the back over her bottom, and suede skin-tight boots.

Mathilde made her twirl in a circle before her, touching her lightly. Light touch, nonetheless, she felt the strength and power in those finger tips. Proof once more of the strength vampires gained the longer they stayed alive.

“I love fashion!” She plucked at the in-sleeves and smiled at Eve. “…though this confuses me. It’s not modern, surely? I think you’re a very young vampire, aren’t you? Why are you wearing this old stuff?”

Cordelia sighed. “Mathilde. Nowadays, people like to ape the fashion of yesteryears. Eve is wearing steampunk Gothic. People love that look these days.”

Mathilde nodded slowly. “Good to know. I don’t like to make a fool of myself when I visit couturiers.”

Mathilde had been visiting couturiers for two centuries now. Aldric allowed it as being thin, pale-skinned and aloof, Mathilde didn’t stick out in the high fashion world. And she only bit designers who weren’t destined for greatness. They weren’t missed.

“I don’t believe that prophecy for a second,” Cordelia had risen from her chair

“Don’t you?” Mathilde turned to face her, her expression suddenly hostile. “You keep coming back to the west country, though don’t you? Interesting that this is the first time in years you’ve chosen to come and see us.”

Cordelia rolled her eyes.

“Two hundred and fifty years of kindness and hospitality!” Mathilde was on a roll. “You ungrateful little bitch.”

With a sudden movement, she flicked out a hand, the gesture enough to send Cordelia flying across the room.

Aldric gave a sigh, but didn’t recriminate her.

“Hey!” Sensing that this wasn’t a fight she would win, Eve backed off Mathilde and the instinct to thump her, hurrying instead to Cordelia’s side and helping her to her feet.

Cordelia grasped her hand. “No matter.” She waved aside Eve’s concern.

“Mathilde refers to something a woman once said before we killed her.”

Arnaud produced another bottle of the fine red wine they’d been drinking and topped up all the glasses. “Yes, I think she was the last victim we despatched together, wasn’t she Cordelia?”

For the first time, Eve began to feel jealous. Arnaud had kept his eyes on Cordelia almost all the time they’d been together in the room. At first, Cordelia had seemed to resolutely keep her gaze averted from his but Eve noticed that now she kept darting looks at him.

Vampire sexuality was fluid, Cordelia often told her. She’d never talked about vampire fidelity, though. The discomfort Eve felt was all too human, reminding Eve of her last boyfriend and the unease she’d experienced whenever he went on a night out with his friends. Carl loved women so much he couldn’t help himself. That was the excuse he gave Eve and expected her to sympathise.

Disturbed by her feelings, Eve concentrated on the present. “What did she say, this woman? That prophecy?”

“Oh, some nonsense –”

“Unlike horoscopes or the rubbish peddled by so-called mediums,” Mathilde broke in, “this lady was precise in her prediction. She gave a date when Cordelia and ‘all her kind’ would be wiped out and by whom.”

Mathilde moved forward so she was standing in front of Eve once more. She cradled Eve’s cheek in her palm. “That means you too, fatty.”

With that, Cordelia exploded. “Do not dare insult Eve!”

She vaulted in front of Eve, pushing her out of the way and grabbed Mathilde by the shoulders, shaking her so hard Eve could hear rattling. Maybe it was her brain. Maybe it was her teeth clashing against each other in her jaws.

Eve didn’t care. Watching someone punish another for insulting you insulated you from finer feelings that might object to physical harm.

Mathilde put up with Cordelia’s ministrations for a while, before growling – a long, deep noise that came from her throat and raised the hairs on the back of Eve’s neck. Aldric and Arnaud, she noticed, didn’t seem unduly bothered by the fight.

“Leave me alone,” Mathilde’s words hissed out, the French accent much stronger.

Aldric stood up, his hands held palms up. “Enough, Cordelia. We have established that my daughter and grandson have no manners.” He dismissed their glares with a wave of the hand. “They concentrate on the minutiae when we have bigger issues to discuss – do we not?”

Again, those hands went out to the side in supplication. Eve could not decide if she was terrified of him or if he was an ally. He turned his head slightly to smile at her and she started. Was mind-reading a trick of old vampires too? She concentrated on clearing her head.

Aldric had taken hold of Cordelia’s hand, taking it between his. Eve blinked. Depending on the light, those hands looked quite different. For a second, she’d been given an X-ray view, skeleton hands overlaid with what looked like lizard skin. Then, they changed instantly, back to ordinary, old man’s hands, large and pink-skinned.

The hands moved and he held up one finger in front of Cordelia’s face. “First, we discuss what you did to create dear lovely Eve, here.” He turned slightly and nodded at Eve, who suddenly found herself overcome with curiosity. She hadn’t questioned her vampire existence until this point and now there seemed to be a mystery, or at least something out of the ordinary about it.

“And then we talk about Gregor and the prophecy.”

He dropped Cordelia’s hands and looked hard at her.

“Do you agree, my dear?”

Gentle words aside, Eve recognised a command when she heard it. It was no surprise when Cordelia nodded her head.

“Eve, can you sit down?” she looked apologetic. “I need to explain something.”

©Emma Baird 2017

 

 

The Power of the Postcard

“Look what I’ve got!”

Daisy’s face was triumphant. She waved the postcard in front of Katrina’s face.

“It’s from Mick!”

No way on this earth would Katrina ever take that postcard from her hand. Even though she wanted to. Daisy knew this, which was why she dangled the card, wafting it in front of Katrina, that annoying half-smile on her face. Theirs was a relationship that depended on the to and fro of power. Postcard drifts up to Katrina’s nose, the advantage. Away, the ball back in Daisy’s court.

Debbie had come into the kitchen. She snatched the postcard from Daisy and handed it over to Katrina.

“Here, you go. Take no notice of my cow of a daughter.”

Debbie and Daisy’s relationship never ceased to surprise Katrina. Her own mother was a mystery to her, a weird, unknown quantity who smoked, watched TV, spoke seldom and rarely expressed an opinion. Since she’d moved down south and in with Daisy, her mother Debbie and brother Toby, Katrina’s mum had been in touch twice.

Aye, Mum. Full of loving concern, right?

I do not care. She said this over and over.

Mick’s postcard was something else. He wrote me a postcard! She hugged the thought to herself, skipping up the stairs to her room. The Walkers lived in a big house. They kept telling her it wasn’t, but for fuck’s sakes, this place had four bedrooms! And a dining room. A kitchen with a table in it, so they could all sit around it and eat! It smelled permanently of lavender, thanks to the potpourri Debbie littered in every room.

Aye, posh. Right enough.

“Catty, I’m coming to London!”

When she’d got to the age of thirteen, Katrina had hit upon the idea of people calling her Kit-Kat. Why not? Mick never listened. He’d called her Catty from the first time he’d met her when she was twelve, and he was fifteen.

His mum, Morag, was an old schoolfriend of her mum’s who ran the local hotel, the Star Tavern. When they’d left Katrina’s dad, Morag had taken them in for a while, giving them a free room in the hotel. Katrina’s first sight of Mick came the day after they moved in.

She heard voices downstairs, a whispered conversation where one party sounded aggrieved.

“They’ve nowhere else tae go, Mick. Think of it as a good deed. Jesus wants you for a sunbeam, aye?” At that, Morag laughed, the sound of it dark and dirty. Her words made Katrina uncomfortable. She and her mum were or had been, Jehovah’s witnesses. Morag’s words held a mocking edge to them.

Katrina made her way slowly downstairs, treading heavily so that they heard her coming. Stood in the doorway to the lounge bar, Morag grinned at her.

“Wee Katrina! D’ye want some chips, or are you down here on the scrounge for vodka?”

That deep, dirty laugh again. Morag had said a few things along those lines since Katrina and her ma had moved in.

“No thanks, Morag, but your vodka needs replaced. The bottle’s just aboot empty.”

Morag started at that, ducking back behind the archway and checking the optics behind her. When she came back, she looked at Katrina differently, appraisingly. She hadn’t expected a smart mouth or the bossiness.

But any thoughts of Morag vanished. A second figure had materialised, taking up space beside Morag. Katrina fell in love. It had to be love, right? Her stomach flipped over, the blood rushed to her face warming it uncomfortably, and her legs appeared to be glued to the spot.

Mick was the most beautiful boy she had ever seen. He was taller than Morag, though he shared her blonde hair and blue eyes. His hair was a lighter blonde than his mother’s, and the ends of it touched his shoulders.

Katrina hadn’t known many men with long hair—Jehovah’s Witnesses tended to favour conservative hairstyles—but this was the best hairstyle she’d ever seen, she decided. A little mousse and some scrunch drying would make it perfect. The thought of being allowed to run her hands through that hair made her shiver.

“I’ll order him to let me do it,” the thought leapt into her mind. “I’ll just go into his room with my mousse and tell him he has to let me style his hair.”

Two days later, she did as she’d promised herself. Mick had returned from catering college, his beautiful blonde hair greasy and messy after having spent its day covered by a bandana.

Katrina knocked on his door. Her hand shook as she held it out, so she knocked extra hard. There was no answer. She knocked again.

Mick opened the door and peered around it. “What d’ye want?” He glared at her.

“I’m gonnae do your hair,” she announced, pushing past him into the room so he couldn’t shut the door on her.

His room was covered in posters, film posters in the main and the odd band she didn’t recognise, though given her upbringing that was no surprise. It smelled different too, antiperspirant layered over sweat and something else, something sharp and salty.

Mick ran a hand through his hair. He looked flustered and irritated.

“What’s wrong wi’ ma hair?”

“I can make you look like a film star,” she said and watched various emotions chase their way across his face: irritation, calculation, want…

Who didnae fancy the thought of resembling a film star?

“Aye, alright then.”

The postcard she held now showed the statue Greyfriars Bobby, the wee dog that had sat next to his master’s grave in Edinburgh for years. Flipping it over, Katrina read the words again.

“Catty, I’m coming to London!”

The next bit said words that were surprising and at the same time, not so. “I might be going on the telly!”

Hadn’t she told him years ago that she’d make him look like a star? Here was the proof she was right. Wee Katrina Allan, forecaster of people’s careers and fortunes.

This being Mick, your typical lad, the postcard lacked any further detail. Like, when he was coming. All it said was, “Maybe I can come and stay with you? Mick x’.”

Katrina hadn’t written anything much to Mick over the years, the odd birthday card, and a good luck card when he moved to Edinburgh to take up that sous chef position at the fancy-pants restaurant. She never put a kiss, too frightened he’d see it and think she was coming on too strong.

Of their own accord, her fingers moved to the cross after his name, tracing the tiny lines of it.

There was a soft knock on her door. “Can I come in?”

To be honest, Katrina was astonished Daisy had managed to hold off barging her way into Katrina’s room this long.

“Aye. If you must.”

Daisy’s eyes sparkled, and she clapped her hands a few times as she came in, like some kind of demented clown.

“Mick’s coming to London! My mum says he can stay here, by the way!”

She sat down on the bed beside Katrina. The Walkers had given Katrina their spare room and told her to do with it as she wanted. Katrina had bought herself some cushions and posters, and a noticeboard. Mick’s postcard was about to have pride of place there.

Daisy’s offer on behalf of Debbie irritated and gratified Katrina at the same time. They’d read the postcard and discussed it! On the other hand, the thrill of Mick coming to London and being able to stay here…

And then on the other, other hand… bloody Daisy, knowing that Mick meant so much to her when she’d never so much as admitted anything.

“Who says I want him to?” she said. “He’ll be a bad influence on Toby.”

Toby was Daisy’s little brother, and Katrina was very fond of him.

Daisy rolled her eyes. “What, and you’re not?”

It was a fair point. Only the other week, Katrina had brought the thirteen-year-old Toby a porn mag, saying his boys-only school kept the boys in ignorance of what women looked like. Possession of the said magazine increased Toby’s popularity at school ten-fold.

“You can tell me,” Daisy wheedled now. “Dead exciting, isn’t it? Mick coming here? What do you think he’s going to do on TV? Be a presenter, or maybe he’s an actor and has been one all along. How exciting!”

She didn’t need answers, Katrina reckoned. This stream of consciousness questions thing was something Daisy did all the time. Mick was yet another of those distractions the Walker family loved.

Something that took their mind off the fact that their husband/father was in prison.

Katrina leant back, letting her elbow support her. Daisy was still sat upright, and she turned her face so that she could look directly at her.

“Say thanks to your ma.”

“For what?” Daisy smiled. The to and fro of power.

“For saying Mick can stay here. That’s awfy nice of her. I’ll write to him and say that it’s okay.” Sometimes, you just had to give in to Daisy.

Daisy beamed, triumphant. “Good-o!”

Her face changed, comedic acting at its finest as something appeared to dawn on her.

“But we don’t have any other spare rooms! Where’s Mick going to sleep?”

©Emma Baird 2017