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Matrix

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Lauren Groff returns with her exhilarating first new novel since the groundbreaking Fates and Furies. Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, 17-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey, its nuns on the brink of starvation and beset by disease. At fi Lauren Groff returns with her exhilarating first new novel since the groundbreaking Fates and Furies. Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, 17-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey, its nuns on the brink of starvation and beset by disease. At first taken aback by the severity of her new life, Marie finds focus and love in collective life with her singular and mercurial sisters. In this crucible, Marie steadily supplants her desire for family, for her homeland, for the passions of her youth with something new to her: devotion to her sisters, and a conviction in her own divine visions. Marie, born the last in a long line of women warriors and crusaders, is determined to chart a bold new course for the women she now leads and protects. But in a world that is shifting and corroding in frightening ways, one that can never reconcile itself with her existence, will the sheer force of Marie's vision be bulwark enough? Equally alive to the sacred and the profane, Matrix gathers currents of violence, sensuality, and religious ecstasy in a mesmerizing portrait of consuming passion, aberrant faith, and a woman that history moves both through and around. Lauren Groff's new novel, her first since Fates and Furies, is a defiant and timely exploration of the raw power of female creativity in a corrupted world.


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Lauren Groff returns with her exhilarating first new novel since the groundbreaking Fates and Furies. Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, 17-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey, its nuns on the brink of starvation and beset by disease. At fi Lauren Groff returns with her exhilarating first new novel since the groundbreaking Fates and Furies. Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, 17-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey, its nuns on the brink of starvation and beset by disease. At first taken aback by the severity of her new life, Marie finds focus and love in collective life with her singular and mercurial sisters. In this crucible, Marie steadily supplants her desire for family, for her homeland, for the passions of her youth with something new to her: devotion to her sisters, and a conviction in her own divine visions. Marie, born the last in a long line of women warriors and crusaders, is determined to chart a bold new course for the women she now leads and protects. But in a world that is shifting and corroding in frightening ways, one that can never reconcile itself with her existence, will the sheer force of Marie's vision be bulwark enough? Equally alive to the sacred and the profane, Matrix gathers currents of violence, sensuality, and religious ecstasy in a mesmerizing portrait of consuming passion, aberrant faith, and a woman that history moves both through and around. Lauren Groff's new novel, her first since Fates and Furies, is a defiant and timely exploration of the raw power of female creativity in a corrupted world.

30 review for Matrix

  1. 4 out of 5

    Roxane

    This is pretty exceptional. A novel about a 12th century abbey and the nun who leads it into prosperity after being banished there is not a story I would have thought I might enjoy. But I did. This is gloriously written. The level of detail of 12th century life is remarkable. Marie, the heart of this novel, is fierce and formidable. The research that made this novel possible is impressive. The ending falters as if it didn’t quite know where to end. There were a couple of things that were hard to This is pretty exceptional. A novel about a 12th century abbey and the nun who leads it into prosperity after being banished there is not a story I would have thought I might enjoy. But I did. This is gloriously written. The level of detail of 12th century life is remarkable. Marie, the heart of this novel, is fierce and formidable. The research that made this novel possible is impressive. The ending falters as if it didn’t quite know where to end. There were a couple of things that were hard to visualize. You’ll know what I mean when you get there. Really enjoyed this, though. Also I am quite glad I wasn’t a woman in the 12th century. No thanks.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    Breathtakingly beautifully written….. WONDERFUL as can be…… Lauren Groff is STAND OUT TALENTED!!! Truly one of our most gifted authors of our day!!! I was worried before I started this— afraid I wouldn’t connect with the time period, plot, or history. I had ‘nothing’ to worry about — NOTHING!! I felt complete trust in the palm of Lauren’s hands … transported to another time another day another world…. Incredibly engrossing- and powerful. I just loved it - love Lauren Groff more after this novel tha Breathtakingly beautifully written….. WONDERFUL as can be…… Lauren Groff is STAND OUT TALENTED!!! Truly one of our most gifted authors of our day!!! I was worried before I started this— afraid I wouldn’t connect with the time period, plot, or history. I had ‘nothing’ to worry about — NOTHING!! I felt complete trust in the palm of Lauren’s hands … transported to another time another day another world…. Incredibly engrossing- and powerful. I just loved it - love Lauren Groff more after this novel than ever before!! Lauren’s dedication “For all my sisters”…. are four words they deepen in experience the further along we read. “How much less beauty she would have brought into this flawed and difficult life if she had been forced to be without her sisters who loved her”. I’ve pages of notes — so many powerful sentences I ‘wanted’ to highlight and read again…. but keeping this mini review short… One more small excerpt to think about…. “Marie says, Goda, do you not think the Virgin Mary, though born a mere woman, is the most precious jewel of any human born to a womb? Is our Virgin not the most perfect vessel, chosen so that in her own womb the Word can become human?” Loved it passionately!!!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Marchpane

    Longlisted for the National Book Awards 2021 ‘For it is a deep and human truth that most souls upon the earth are not at ease unless they find themselves safe in the hands of a force far greater than themselves.’ My advanced reader copy of Matrix came with the all-caps tagline: MEET THE INDOMITABLE MARIE DE FRANCE. However, there is but a mere soupçon of Marie de France in this well-wrought tale, so to any stans out there: this might be a letdown. Not much is known about Marie, other than she Longlisted for the National Book Awards 2021 ‘For it is a deep and human truth that most souls upon the earth are not at ease unless they find themselves safe in the hands of a force far greater than themselves.’ My advanced reader copy of Matrix came with the all-caps tagline: MEET THE INDOMITABLE MARIE DE FRANCE. However, there is but a mere soupçon of Marie de France in this well-wrought tale, so to any stans out there: this might be a letdown. Not much is known about Marie, other than she was 12th century French poetess who wrote a collection of lais (short narrative poems) about courtly romance, with a fairytale bent. Which is why it’s strange that Groff disposes of these scant biographical details early on in this novel. Groff’s Marie dashes off the lais as an angsty teenager, her fledgling artistic tendencies are squashed, she moves on to nunnier pastures. There is a theory (not proven) that the poetess Marie de France and another historical personage, the English abbess Mary of Shaftesbury were in fact one and the same. Even less is known about Mary, the half-sister of Henry II, but in any case, Groff was clearly more jazzed by writing about a boss-woman of a huge abbey so here we are. Less de France, more Shaftesbury. ‘Fine then, she thinks with bitterness. She will stay in this wretched place and make the best of the life given her. She will do all that she can do to exalt herself on this worldly plane. She will make those who cast her out sorry for what they’ve done. One day they will see the majesty she holds within herself and feel awe.’ Matrix is a big-budget, prestige-TV Gwendoline Christie vehicle in novel form. It is a fantasy version of history, in which Marie’s inexorable, inevitable rise to power is parcelled out in sumptuous, bingeable segments, each one presenting a new set of challenges and ending with Marie triomphante. As enjoyable and lushly written as Matrix is, Groff has, in Marie, written a heroine so superior, so literally INDOMITABLE, that the novel is shorn of its emotional potency. You expect her to win. She does. She’s also a total chick-magnet. Subversive enough to include a scene where novices take turns ‘playing Judith’ with a severed head, Matrix is nonetheless fun, feminist, blessedly escapist historical fiction. 4 stars.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    I need to say that my 2-star rating is entirely subjective (what else would it be?) and that other readers liked this far more than me. I would venture to add that the less one knows of Marie de France and her writings, the easier it might be to fall into this book. In fact, the hook of 'Marie de France' is precisely that, a hook on which to hang a story that could have been about any modern fantasy of a powerful medieval woman's life - it doesn't really touch base with what we learn about the r I need to say that my 2-star rating is entirely subjective (what else would it be?) and that other readers liked this far more than me. I would venture to add that the less one knows of Marie de France and her writings, the easier it might be to fall into this book. In fact, the hook of 'Marie de France' is precisely that, a hook on which to hang a story that could have been about any modern fantasy of a powerful medieval woman's life - it doesn't really touch base with what we learn about the real Marie from her writings, more of which later. What I enjoyed about this book, particularly at the start, is the energetic writing. Groff almost figuratively encapsulates her story on the opening page: 'in the fields, the seeds uncurl in the dark cold soil, ready to punch into the freer air' - just as Marie, only seventeen, is the 'seed' of the powerful woman she will become, working through the 'cold dark' of the abbey to 'punch' her way to some kind of freedom. There are also some lovely snappy descriptions that made me smile: on the first appearance of Eleanor, for example: Queen Eleanor had appeared in the doorway of Marie's chamber, all bosom and golden hair and sable fur lining the blue robe and jewels dripping from ears and wrists and shining chaplet and perfume strong enough to knock a soul to the floor. However, almost immediately we're removed from the court and Marie's life in an abbey just didn't fundamentally grab me: she starts off by questioning Christianity (not really a position available for a medieval person) but then later becomes devout, writing of her spiritual visions, without the transition really coming to life. Similarly, Marie has a super-hero trajectory where she almost single-handedly defeats disease, poverty, hunger, classism, misogyny and turns the abbey into a showplace all without much effort. The years flash past 'Marie is forty-five... the abbey is rich... Marie is forty-seven. From Rome, from Paris, from London her spies write swift panicked letters: Jerusalem has fallen again to the infidel. Marie weeps' (all this in half a page). But I guess my biggest disappointment is that I came to this with the expectation that it would imaginatively fill out Marie's status as a female author and poet (not the first known French female poet - there were trobairitz, or female troubadours, before her). But in the book the Lais are written in half a page at 15% and that's it: 'What has come to Marie is a Breton lai in rhyming lines, sudden and beautiful, in its entirety. Her hands begin to shake in her lap. She will write a collection of lais, translated to the the fine musical French of the court. She will send her manuscript as a blazing arrow forward to her love and when it strikes, it will set that cruel heart afire.' Now, I do like that this fictional Marie is in love with Eleanor and addresses her manuscript to Henry II in the hope of making Eleanor jealous, and the arrow of love/cruel heart afire is nicely medieval. But it's a sparse engagement with a female author whose authentic voice in the Prologue to her actual Lais is far more ambitious and literarily conscious: Anyone who has received from God the gift of knowledge and true eloquence has a duty not to remain silent [...] For this reason I began to think of working on some good story and translating a Latin text into French, but this would scarcely have been worthwhile, for others have undertaken a similar task. So I thought of lays which I had heard and did not doubt, for I knew it full well, that they were composed, by those who first began them and put them into circulation, to perpetuate the memory of adventures they had heard. I myself have heard a number of them and do not wish to overlook or neglect them. I have put them into verse, made poems from them and worked on them late into the night. ~ From Penguin Classics, The Lais of Marie de France, trans. Glyn S. Burgess What a shame, then, that the Marie who explicitly speaks in her poems of translating narratives from Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Latin into medieval French (romanz, or franceis) so that they become memorialised isn't the Marie who appears in this novel. And her intellectual endeavours and hard work ('I worked on them late into the night') almost disappear from this novel. So I admit there was a mismatch between my expectations and the novel that Groff has written - bear in mind that plenty of other reviewers have loved this. Thanks (and apologies!) to Heinemann Hutchinson for an ARC via NetGalley.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

    In her inimitable style Groff tells of the life of Marie of France or Mary of Shaftesbury (depending on the resource consulted) about whom little is known. A bastard of royal blood, Marie was booted from royal court and sent to live out her days first as a prioress and then as an abbess at a starving, poverty stricken, disease-ridden abbey of no regard. Her days revolve around temperamental and unpredictable nuns, very hard and painstaking work, and many hours of prayer and meditation. And, this In her inimitable style Groff tells of the life of Marie of France or Mary of Shaftesbury (depending on the resource consulted) about whom little is known. A bastard of royal blood, Marie was booted from royal court and sent to live out her days first as a prioress and then as an abbess at a starving, poverty stricken, disease-ridden abbey of no regard. Her days revolve around temperamental and unpredictable nuns, very hard and painstaking work, and many hours of prayer and meditation. And, this matrix of monastic life is able to transform the abbey from one thing into another. A woman of passion, vision, self-assurance, and bravery, Marie is a force to be reckoned with. Who knew that reading a fictional account of a prioress/abbess of a High Middle Ages abbey would be so captivating?

  6. 4 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    Sisterhood I may not understand Groff’s intention with this book. Or perhaps I do, in which case I don’t like it. It is historical fiction only in the broadest sense that a woman called Marie Abbess of Shaftesbury did exist. Anything else is mostly legend. And Groff’s casual conflation of two historical characters on the basis of a shared given first name (Marie of France, a contemporary but very different woman than Marie d'Anjou) seems a bit out of line even in fiction. It seems to me the book Sisterhood I may not understand Groff’s intention with this book. Or perhaps I do, in which case I don’t like it. It is historical fiction only in the broadest sense that a woman called Marie Abbess of Shaftesbury did exist. Anything else is mostly legend. And Groff’s casual conflation of two historical characters on the basis of a shared given first name (Marie of France, a contemporary but very different woman than Marie d'Anjou) seems a bit out of line even in fiction. It seems to me the book is much more a feminist polemic. It is obviously a vision of a feminine utopia, a Shakerism without the men anywhere in sight, and contentedly gay. The problem is that Marie uses increasingly ‘male’ tactics to get and keep control over her visionary paradise. She begins with fraud, moves on to manipulation and intimidation, and ultimately resorts to violence in order to get her way. It seems to me that her female-only hideaway is just another form of domination in a world ruled by domination. Anyway, here are my notes to justify my conclusion. Beware: spoilers ahead if you care about reading the book without prejudice: ————————————————————— Marie wants it all, or at least everything that the 12th century has to offer - ridin’, huntin’, and shootin’, with a well-prepared feast of roast swan afterwards, which she can enjoy wearing the latest fashions from France. As the illegitimate child of Geoffrey of Anjou, she reckons she has the right to such things. But the Empress Matilda thinks otherwise, so off she’s packed to Angleterre. Marie is a woman’s woman (nudge, wink) who became imprinted (enamoured, obsessed) with the good Lady Eleanor of Aquitaine (her half-sister) while on a purported Women’s Crusade to Jerusalem (a sort of medieval Hadassah cruise one supposes, which it was not historically - wives did accompany husbands; Eleanor was along for the ride, armor and all). Marie is hopeful that her devotion to Eleanor, now Queen of the English as well as the French will earn her the points necessary to fulfil her dream. What she gets instead is a forlorn nunnery in wet and dreary Wiltshire… … And no word from the beloved Eleanor who is off flooding the Plantagenet gene pool (and then regretting much of the outflow from the overcrowded space). Marie’s admiration for Eleanor is mysterious (it is more likely, historically, that she was focused on her half-brother Henry II). Eleanor has slept her way to the top of the social ladder, something Marie wouldn’t even consider given her preferences. Eleanor is apparently a looker; Marie is a butch two feet taller than her peers with a face like… well, a horse. Eleanor has learned how to take and maintain power in a world of men; men don’t exist in Marie’s world except as faceless, nameless ghosts who are best avoided. Eleanor is ‘establishment’ through and through; Marie gives up on that world entirely in order to create her own anti-establishment. Nevertheless Marie uses what she has, her growing band of nuns, to make a name and a position of respect. And she thinks she has found what makes Eleanor so successful: “Women in this world are vulnerable; only reputation can keep them from being crushed.” So she develops an image of ruthless competence and dedicated persistence. And she is not above using the church itself to further her ambitions. As she has learned from her blind, dotty abbess, “Mystical acts create mystical beliefs.” Marie creates a set of phoney accounts to mislead the local bishop about the convent’s growing wealth. And flirtatiously flatters her own female superiors into submission. Corruption is necessary after all to fight corruption, she muses. And for a woman of definite sexual tastes, the abbey provides the casual but close companionship she desires. And why not, since men aren’t involved, there’s no biblical prohibition against womanly mutual comfort. She is getting accustomed to this business of faith as well: “How strange, she thinks. Belief has grown upon her. Perhaps, she thinks, it is something like a mold.” And her principle belief is that men are the carriers if not the source of evil and will be banned entirely from the abbey’s estates. Marie’s post-menopausal visions are the driving force of her middle age (Groff spends several pages on Marie’s hot flushes, suggesting she likes the image of women of a certain age as witches). They tell her to make the abbey an “island of women” entirely enclosed and fortified against the vagaries of the (male-inhabited) world. Over the objections of her senior nuns she builds a enormous labyrinthine maze around the abbey. All hands contribute, neglecting their religious rituals but designing and building new machines, roads, dams, and fortifications with military precision. Marie’s project is noticed by both the nobility and the church authorities. And not favourably. But Marie has already started a massive international PR programme to quell criticism.: “through the countryside, the women will tell stories, woman to woman, servant to servant and lady to lady, and the stories will spread north and south upon this island, and the stories will alchemize into legends, and the legends will serve as cautionary tales, and her nuns will be made doubly safe through story most powerful.” Eleanor, freed finally from family and regnal strife, seems to approve Marie’s efforts. So Marie receives a new vision and a new project. Hoping to entice Eleanor to retire in the abbey, Marie starts the building of an enormous abbess house. For this skilled men are needed. Appropriate precautions are taken. Blindfolds are necessary for any member of the community who bring the men food, drink, and pay. The maze provides security. But there is a gap in defences, enough for some sperm to sneak over the wall, as it were, and one of the naughty novices gets pregnant, miscarries and dies. Marie works jointly with the Queen “against the old carrionbirds Gossip and Rumor.” to bury the scandal. Marie has made her dream a reality through cunning and wit. She has power, power to maintain a “second Eden.” She is the new Eve. And as Eve was a precursor of the Virgin Mary so the Virgin is a precursor of Mother Abbess Marie. She is turning into an apocalyptic fanatic: “Marie sees evil settling on the world, an evil overcoming the goodness in the hearts of even the holy.” She essentially forms her own church, installing herself as high priestess: “I will take upon my own shoulders the abbey’s sacerdotal duties.” She says Mass, takes confessions, changes the Latin ritual to feminine endings, and performs the other roles canonically reserved for males. It is in the confessional that Marie gets to understand the depth of suffering her flock has undergone at the hands of men: “she sorrows for her daughters in their lives before, the secret invisible weights they have dragged behind them into the abbey.” Rape, abuse, the guilt of fighting and not fighting off these men. Out of fear, love or loyalty no one snitches to the authorities. Marie, of course, knows everyone’s secrets at this point. Prudence prevails. Cults produce other cults, Marie finds, as competition emerges in the abbey’s ranks. The first rule of power is to protect power. If two mystical prophets share the same time and space, one of them is false. Marie manoeuvres her potential rivals out. She expands her physical empire, even as Eleanor is dying and loosing hers. Marie feels elation rather than sorrow. “She feels royal. She feels papal.” She even encroaches on Crown land. Unfortunately protection of this dramatic enlargement of her ambition will require murder, and the death of her friend. With this last comes regret and a personal revelation: “Marie’s arrogance brought this final illness upon Wulfhild. Her endless hunger ate up the daughter of her spirit. The need to enlarge this abbey she has thought of as an extension of her own body. Her actions always in reaction to the question of what she could have done in the world, if she had only been given her freedom.” Yet she still refuses to recognise the papal interdict of England forbidding all religious rights - the ultimate arrogance. In Marie’s quiet island of women and work, ritual and observance go on as usual for years. Even in old age she can successfully resist men wielding power through deceit and misinformation more than equivalent to their own. She is unrepentant, missed by her sisters in death, and portrayed by Groff as a sort of light that failed. Seriously? I get it, I do. Tricking Da Massa is rewarding revenge and one has to admire Marie’s ingenuity (or rather Groff’s). Men are mostly shits; history demonstrates their danger to women. And Marie’s ability to still raise an orgasm or two well into her seventies is admirable indeed. But if that’s the sum of Marie’s life, it might have been wasted in better ways. The image of Eve (the first Matrix) and the Virgin Mary (the greatest Matrix) engaged in an eternal sensual kiss, both embraced by Abbess Marie (the last Matrix) isn’t really sufficient to maintain either a mystical cult or visionary momentum. Ultimately Marie couldn’t institutionalise herself and her vision. Both passed apparently into obscurity. Groff’s resurrection doesn’t add much of value to the legends. I await the avalanche of Mariolatrus abuse.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    If “Matrix” were written by anyone else, it would be a hard sell. But Lauren Groff is one of the most beloved and critically acclaimed fiction writers in the country. And now that we’ve endured almost two years of quarantine and social distancing, her new novel about a 12th-century nunnery feels downright timely. Still, a medieval abbess is a challenging heroine — living, as she does, a millennium away from us, suspended in that dim historical period long after the Romans but centuries before Sha If “Matrix” were written by anyone else, it would be a hard sell. But Lauren Groff is one of the most beloved and critically acclaimed fiction writers in the country. And now that we’ve endured almost two years of quarantine and social distancing, her new novel about a 12th-century nunnery feels downright timely. Still, a medieval abbess is a challenging heroine — living, as she does, a millennium away from us, suspended in that dim historical period long after the Romans but centuries before Shakespeare. We need a trusted guide, someone who can dramatize this remote period while making it somehow relevant to our own lives. Groff is that guide largely because she knows what to leave out. Indeed, it’s breathtaking how little ink she spills on filling in historical context. Details about the court of King Henry II are omitted as though the Angevin Empire were as familiar to contemporary Americans as Westeros. What you might already know about Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Second Crusade — probably little — will not be much increased by reading “Matrix.” And though it covers more than 50 tumultuous years, this entire novel wraps up in the space it would take Ken Follett to warm a cauldron of gruel. . . . To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/entert...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Woodbury

    There are several definitions of "matrix," but the one central to this novel is an old one, meaning a kind of mother, from matr- and -trix, and once I figured that out I stopped asking the question I'd had since I first heard that it was a book about 12th century nuns where I could not for the life of me figure out what a mathematical word like this had to do in the title. Anyway, if you are a weirdo like me, I have solved your problem. This is a novel about 12th century nuns, the prose holds ou There are several definitions of "matrix," but the one central to this novel is an old one, meaning a kind of mother, from matr- and -trix, and once I figured that out I stopped asking the question I'd had since I first heard that it was a book about 12th century nuns where I could not for the life of me figure out what a mathematical word like this had to do in the title. Anyway, if you are a weirdo like me, I have solved your problem. This is a novel about 12th century nuns, the prose holds our characters at quite a distance, and it takes place over several decades without one overarching plot line. All of these things are reasons I should not like this novel, they are not my particular cup of tea, and yet I still liked this quite a lot. Our protagonist, Marie, wins you over early on and you get to have the complicated relationship with her you get in very good novels. Marie is stubborn, proud, and smart. She is a woman in a society where there is no place for smart women, and she is too young to recognize how very lucky she is to be shipped off to be prioress of an abbey, where she will have some stability and a little power. Eventually Marie comes to understand just how much she can accomplish because she is in a place entirely cut off from most of society, a place where the rules of men do not really apply. In that sense this book is a little bit of a feminist utopia. Not only does Marie find ways to turn the struggling abbey into a stable one, but over time she understands that she is able to make it something unique. She has several visions that assist her in this task, and I suspect some readers will be frustrated by them as a device, but I liked them quite a lot. It doesn't matter to me if they are real religious experiences or dreams based on her own desires, given how deeply the abbey becomes a part of her life it is the same either way. There is also, unsurprisingly, a lot of queerness in this novel. Happily Groff does not leave it as subtext but makes it actual text on a regular basis. I do not miss the days when all queerness was subtext, y'all. This is pretty ambitious, even for Groff who is often ambitious, and I was surprised by how much it won me over. I did use my kindle's definition/wikipedia function often as I was unfamiliar with some of the specific terms used in an abbey or used at the time (glad there are archaic definitions listed because they were generally the right ones!) but you will be fine even without them, the book eases you in and context is usually quite clear. It's based on real people and it certainly feels like you get a glimpse into a time that is rarely depicted so clearly in fiction.

  9. 4 out of 5

    karen

    i put off reviewing this too long, because the book is so much better than my reviewing abilities, and now it's pub day and i'm the worst. the book's still great, though, and it's out today. go get it. i put off reviewing this too long, because the book is so much better than my reviewing abilities, and now it's pub day and i'm the worst. the book's still great, though, and it's out today. go get it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Eric Anderson

    I was in the middle of reading a much-acclaimed new novel recently and the experience was dragging because I wasn't gripped by it so I decided to put it aside and pick up Lauren Groff's new novel “Matrix” instead. French lesbian nuns in the 12th century! This is what I need! That's not to say that it's appealing just for the subject matter. The story delves into the mind and heart of its heroine Marie de France in such a compelling and complex way that I'm still pondering the larger meaning of t I was in the middle of reading a much-acclaimed new novel recently and the experience was dragging because I wasn't gripped by it so I decided to put it aside and pick up Lauren Groff's new novel “Matrix” instead. French lesbian nuns in the 12th century! This is what I need! That's not to say that it's appealing just for the subject matter. The story delves into the mind and heart of its heroine Marie de France in such a compelling and complex way that I'm still pondering the larger meaning of this tale. On the surface it's very different from “Fates and Furies” which is the only other novel I've read by Groff. Yet, it's a continuation in the way this author so cleverly and sympathetically elevates the stories of women who mostly appear in the margins of storytelling. The novel begins with Marie, an illegitimate child of the royal court being written out of history as she's sent to permanently live and work as a prioress in a dilapidated and impoverished abbey in Angleterre. In this foreign land and in circumstances much more humble than the life she lived before she's meant to quietly reside out of sight from larger society. But Marie is a large woman - both in body and spirit and she's going to make her presence known. As we follow the story of her long life we see how she not only reinvigorates this rundown countryside abbey but establishes a sisterhood among the nuns who live there. It's a vividly told and dramatic tale which takes the richness of its protagonist's inner life as a given because she has so much more to offer than the opportunities she's given. Yet, the novel also really excels in how it interrogates the way Marie might unknowingly contribute society's rocky evolution. Read my full review of Matrix by Lauren Groff on LonesomeReader

  11. 4 out of 5

    s.penkevich

    The spicy nun novel we deserve, this is a fun and imaginative take on history through a fantastical and feminist story of mystical visions, poetry and power struggles. A real treat, review to come.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    4.5 When I heard Groff had a new work out, I immediately requested it from the library. I was first in line for the e-copy and started it not knowing one thing about its contents. (I’d even thought there was a “The” in the title before I saw the physical cover.) Imagine my surprise when I read the beginning of an unexpected third sentence: “It is 1158…” Ah, historical fiction, I thought. Yet, as I read on, my brain created a different label. Groff had few facts to work with when it came to her mai 4.5 When I heard Groff had a new work out, I immediately requested it from the library. I was first in line for the e-copy and started it not knowing one thing about its contents. (I’d even thought there was a “The” in the title before I saw the physical cover.) Imagine my surprise when I read the beginning of an unexpected third sentence: “It is 1158…” Ah, historical fiction, I thought. Yet, as I read on, my brain created a different label. Groff had few facts to work with when it came to her main character, Marie de France, and I bet she found that more freeing than Hilary Mantel likely did with her Cromwell. (I fleetingly saw a quote contrasting the two and can’t claim the original comparison.) It’s a fact that Marie was a poet, renowned for her lais (short rhymed tales of love and chivalry), and that’s about it. She might have been the Abbess of Shaftesbury, who might’ve been the illegitimate half-sister of the husband of Eleanor of Aquitaine. I phrase the royal relationship that way because Groff never names the man, though he’s the king. Eleanor is pivotal in Groff’s account of Marie’s life. No man is. The whole book is a women-only space: That’s its point. So, as I continued reading, the phrase “historical fantasy” popped in my head, though I don’t mean that second word in a magical way at all. I suppose the term I should use is speculative fiction, as Groff’s story doesn’t exist in recorded history. None of the labels satisfy me, as I picture the author gleefully filling in all the unknowns with an even more creative imagining than a historical-fiction writer usually gets to employ. Marie’s actions to protect her domain (as I write this, I’m reminded that Groff’s Arcadia dealt with a commune) and Marie’s transcriptions of her visions lead to ultimate questions of who is the Creator, what is Creation, and who might be responsible for the start of its Undoing.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Olive Fellows (abookolive)

    Click here to hear my thoughts on this book over on my Booktube channel, abookolive. Lauren Groff's latest is loosely inspired by late 12th century poet Marie de France, but Matrix is much more a study of female ambition than it is an examination of female creativity (as the publisher's synopsis suggests). The book is full of all the same fantastic writing found in Fates and Furies and it proves to be completely absorbing despite its slow pace. Click here to hear my thoughts on this book over on my Booktube channel, abookolive. Lauren Groff's latest is loosely inspired by late 12th century poet Marie de France, but Matrix is much more a study of female ambition than it is an examination of female creativity (as the publisher's synopsis suggests). The book is full of all the same fantastic writing found in Fates and Furies and it proves to be completely absorbing despite its slow pace.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Doug

    I started this just prior to its NBA nomination, on the strength of the other two Groff books I've read. This is quite a departure from her previous novels, but like those, excels in beautifully composed prose. And while I was intermittently interested and impressed with this imagined life history of Marie de France (of whom little is actually known, not even if Marie was her real name), I was never quite convinced by it - and not quite sure what the whole POINT of the book was. Much of it seeme I started this just prior to its NBA nomination, on the strength of the other two Groff books I've read. This is quite a departure from her previous novels, but like those, excels in beautifully composed prose. And while I was intermittently interested and impressed with this imagined life history of Marie de France (of whom little is actually known, not even if Marie was her real name), I was never quite convinced by it - and not quite sure what the whole POINT of the book was. Much of it seemed anachronistic, and since religious matters hold little interest for me, all of Marie's various visions and conundrums didn't really resonate for me. Still ... nice prose.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tatiana

    35% DNF This reads like a recap of a novel rather than a novel.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    Lauren Groff, one of my favorite writers, has joined another favorite, Maggie O'Farrell, in bringing a far-off world to living immediacy. Marie de France lived in the 12th century, and has been regarded as a woman ahead of her times. From the beginning when she is banished from the French court to be prioress of a rotting abbey in England, she decides not to assume the role of victim but to take charge and manages to turn the fate of the nunnery and its inhabitants around. I've always felt Groff Lauren Groff, one of my favorite writers, has joined another favorite, Maggie O'Farrell, in bringing a far-off world to living immediacy. Marie de France lived in the 12th century, and has been regarded as a woman ahead of her times. From the beginning when she is banished from the French court to be prioress of a rotting abbey in England, she decides not to assume the role of victim but to take charge and manages to turn the fate of the nunnery and its inhabitants around. I've always felt Groff was one of our more intuitive contemporary writers, but she obviously has done her research and has created an immersive account of a long-gone time and place.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    This never quite opened up for me… It’s a medieval girlboss fantasia set almost entirely in an abbey, loosely based on the little that’s known about Marie de France. This Marie is kicked out of the French royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine and sent to run the abbey at age seventeen. That’s about where the real hardships for Marie end. The abbey is poor when she gets there, and over the course of the book we see her turn it into a rich and profitable abbey. Mild threats from the Queen to tax the This never quite opened up for me… It’s a medieval girlboss fantasia set almost entirely in an abbey, loosely based on the little that’s known about Marie de France. This Marie is kicked out of the French royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine and sent to run the abbey at age seventeen. That’s about where the real hardships for Marie end. The abbey is poor when she gets there, and over the course of the book we see her turn it into a rich and profitable abbey. Mild threats from the Queen to tax them higher are somehow easily evaded. Conflict comes and goes like that, showing up in little bursts and soon being overcome by Marie’s tall-tale-like ingenuity and power. The story is told at a distance, spanning the whole lifetime of Marie, so I understand from an efficiency perspective not wanting to get into any one challenge she faced. But, for me, a boredom set in halfway through that didn’t ever leave. It’s hard to be engaged if you know that any trouble that comes her way will quickly and often unbelievably be tossed off with ease. Towers go up despite protests, attackers are defeated with hardly any loss or pain to the nuns, sexism is seemingly done away with when the townspeople and the church leaders and everyone else behold the power of Marie. It makes the novel feel cartoonish, like a superhero story without a compelling villain. A reader is supposed to have the same awe that the fellow nuns do, but it’s one thing to be told you should feel awe and another thing to feel it. I think it’s a great project to tell a story about medieval women without the usual doom and gloom, but it does a disservice to focus so much on the magical exceptionality of Marie. Like any story about exceptions overcoming the oppression of their groups, there’s a risk of making it seem like—well, if this one person can do all that, then isn’t every other person’s oppression kind of a fault of their shortcomings? I.e. while trying to do a feminist reclamation, it has whiffs of a conservative bootstrap tale. Without realistic, believable, grounded conflict, it’s hard to put the awe you're supposed to have for Marie in perspective.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Bruce Katz

    This book is a wonder, more filled with life and ideas than just about any other book I've read (or at least that I can remember). "Matrix" introduces the reader to Marie (based on a real 12th century woman about whom little is known) when she is 17 years old and about to be removed from the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine, to whom she is related, albeit via bastardy. Marie, unhappy and cast away from the people she loves, is sent to be prioress at an impoverished abbey in cold, gray, mist-bound A This book is a wonder, more filled with life and ideas than just about any other book I've read (or at least that I can remember). "Matrix" introduces the reader to Marie (based on a real 12th century woman about whom little is known) when she is 17 years old and about to be removed from the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine, to whom she is related, albeit via bastardy. Marie, unhappy and cast away from the people she loves, is sent to be prioress at an impoverished abbey in cold, gray, mist-bound Angleterre, an abbey so poor that she is enjoined to add a prayer for shoes to her daily canonical hours. The problem is, Marie is not at all religious and definitely lacks the temperament for a rigidly ordered cloistered life. The book recounts her life there, from being a clumsy teenager who literally falls into mud upon first reaching the abbey, to growing into a powerful and capable woman who is larger than life. So: medieval nuns living in a broken down abbey. Gee, that sounds exciting. (Turn off the lights as you leave the room, Bruce.) Except that, astonishingly, it is exciting. Truly. "Matrix" has a hell of a story to tell. It's not stodgy or meditative or claustrophobic in its depiction of the religious life. Indeed, the "religious life" as Marie lives it, is a quite unexpected thing, as is Marie herself. She is a force of nature: tall, strong, unattractive (and well aware of the fact), fearless, visionary, prideful, smart, willful, confident, arrogant, and very complicated. (One wonders, of course, how many of these adjectives arise from the fact that she's a woman. It's a question that Groff subtly guides the reader into asking.) She has visions of the Virgin Mary, is confrontational in demeanor, earthly, and even lustful. As abbess, she transforms that gloomy rundown abbey into a thriving community whose wealth draws the unwelcome attention of local nobility and the Church. She has a network of spies who keep her up to date on what's happening locally and in France, and well apprised of possible dangers. Anticipating that the abbey will in time be threatened by resentful and envious men from nearby villages, she turns the abbey into a fort situated within a massive labyrinth created by the nuns themselves. (But then, the nuns are far more capable than one might expect. Indeed, they are thoroughly and surprisingly self-sufficient. Among their number are gifted healers, women with extraordinary engineering skills, even archers. Her premonition proved to be accurate (the nuns on horses are huge and black in silhouette and their shadows paint the hill in terrifying shapes): the attack is successfully repelled. After the battle, Marie has to seize the severed head of an attacker from young novices who are "taking turns playing Judith." With respect to a different, more subversive kind of self-sufficiency, when the spiritual needs of the nuns aren't being met, either through neglect or Papal interdict, Marie takes it upon herself to celebrate Mass. Many of the nuns beneath her are scandalized, furious, but she persists undeterred. I am the shepherdess of all the abbey's souls, Marie says... I am the mother, here to protect and guide all our sisters and our servants and villeinesses. We are whole in ourselves. Marie, you are very far from being the head of the church, Tilde says, muffled by the desk. As the hierarchy sees it, perhaps. But holy sisters in our humility and meekness sit nearest of all humans to the hand of god. And our abbey is known as the most powerfully pious in the land. And if there is any intermediary on the earthly plane, that intermediary is me, Marie says. Ergo, I recognize no anathema. I loved how Groff shows us Marie's development, her growth into strength and knowledge. Into a kind of faith entirely in keeping with who she is: How strange, she thinks. Belief has grown upon her. Perhaps, she thinks, it is something like a mold. Also, the dynamics of her interactions with the other nuns, Church officials, villagers, a queen. How she crafts a persona for herself: [Wulfhild, a nun] “rides out six days a week to the abbey’s landholdings and cajoles and thunders all day on Marie’s behalf, she is the abbess’s voice within the town and beyond so that when Marie does at last visit in person, she appears to all eyes as greater than mere woman, she appears as myth; some say saint, some say witch, the rumors mix and muddle; descendent of the fairy Mesuline with the rages and the power to bend nature to her will, kin to royalty, too-huge woman on her warhorse, crusader, abbess of unwomanly face and body and knowledge and force of will. [Which obliges me to celebrate the names -- Anglo-Saxon, perhaps? Dane? -- of the nuns: in addition to Wulfhild, bane of spellcheck software, we are introduced to Goda, Elgiva, Aelfhild, Wevua, Estrid, Nest, Duvelina, Gytha, and, of course, Swan-neck.] How utterly un-nunlike Marie is at heart: …these ladies in their endless circulation between court and chamber and chapel, with never a thought of galloping through fields, nor fighting nor hunting nor nor disputing nor reading the dead great philosophers nor swimming naked in a river whose current could grab their feet and throw them a mile, nothing but sewing and sighing over stories of courtly love, adultery, and secret suffering — these bony lady necks Marie could also imagine snapping in her huge hands. I loved the athleticism of the book's language. It can be vivid and painter-like: The song rises from the mouths of the nuns in puffs of white breath, it expands as it flies, it touches the tall white ceiling and collects there until it grows so heavy that it begins to pour down the walls and the pillars and the windows in a cascade; it trickles back across the stone floor to where the nuns’ clogs press, and up through their wooden heels… Or economical: "The world is coated in a fine shining ice a thumb thick. The wind blows in knives of cold." And: "Outside the infirmary, the three ancient nuns are set out in the sun. One afflicted, one brainless, one who slides through time." And: All the beautiful ladies in their silken dresses shining like jewels in the brackish fog breathed up from the river. Unique in language, story, character, subversive, simultaneously brave and tender, "Matrix" is an extraordinary book, a tour de force of imagination and story and craft. I'm doing it no justice here. Take my word for it: Just read it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Gorgeous narrative make this atmospheric story a great literary treasure SUMMARY MATRIX is a delightful novel about the life and struggles of Marie de France and her contenious relationship to Eleanor of Aquitaine. The novel begins in 1158 when the tall and ungainly, Marie is only seventeen years old and is cast out of the royal court. Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine has sent Marie, despite protestations and lack of godly vocation, to a decrepit and poverty-stricken English abbey to become it's priore Gorgeous narrative make this atmospheric story a great literary treasure SUMMARY MATRIX is a delightful novel about the life and struggles of Marie de France and her contenious relationship to Eleanor of Aquitaine. The novel begins in 1158 when the tall and ungainly, Marie is only seventeen years old and is cast out of the royal court. Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine has sent Marie, despite protestations and lack of godly vocation, to a decrepit and poverty-stricken English abbey to become it's prioress. Marie, who can keep books and write in four languages, quickly learns the rhythm of the abbey. She is at first overwhelmed by the severity and poverty of life in the abbey, but soon find focus and a devotion to her sisters. She is determined to transform and protect the abbey and chart a better course for the women she now leads. Her decisions, she believes are emboldened by divine visions of the Virgin Mary. REVIEW Marie’s character as envisioned by author Lauren Groff is sublime. She is smart, bold and has tremendous foresight. She seizes and holds power in the abbey for over 50 years. She turns an ailing and dilapidated convent into a thriving self-sufficient estate, overgrown with fruits, vegetables and livestock. She build creative defenses and she boldly fights off the jealous priests, nuns, and villagers who plot against her. The story is an intriguing vision of a women-centered culture and the importance of a woman reputation. Groff’s prose is beautiful. Vivid descriptions detail the gray abbey, the starving nuns, the bleak countryside, and the chilling winds. MATRIX is a highly enjoyable read, one that should be savored slowly with a glass or two of fine wine. While some of Marie’s morals and decisions may be appalling to some readers, the book is a literary treasure. Author Lauren Groff masterfully transports us to England in the twelfth century, a time of disease, death and royal upheaval. Groff is a two time National Book Award Finalist and The New York Times best selling author of three novels, The Monsters of Templeton, Arcadia, and Fates and Furies. She has also offered two short story collections Delicate Edible Birds and Florida. She has won numerous awards and her work regularly appears in the New Yorker and The Atlantic. She lives in Gainesville, Florida. Publisher Riverhead Books Published September 7, 2021 Review www.bluestockingreviews.com

  20. 5 out of 5

    Neil

    Matrix is a novel inspired by Marie de France, considered to be the first woman to write poetry in French, but a woman about whose life very little is known. Even her accurate identity is debatable. Here, we read the story of a 12th century woman banished from the French court by Eleanor of Aquitaine and sent to an abbey in England. Once she accepts her fate, she settles into her new life and transforms the place which leads to all kinds of questions and opposition from local leaders who are, of Matrix is a novel inspired by Marie de France, considered to be the first woman to write poetry in French, but a woman about whose life very little is known. Even her accurate identity is debatable. Here, we read the story of a 12th century woman banished from the French court by Eleanor of Aquitaine and sent to an abbey in England. Once she accepts her fate, she settles into her new life and transforms the place which leads to all kinds of questions and opposition from local leaders who are, of course, all men. Groff is clear that although she is writing about a woman from 800+ years ago, it is, in her view, impossible to write historical fiction without at the same time writing about modern life. In The New Yorker, she says: “To a reader, the stories would certainly seem distant in subject matter. To me, though, the same obsession with American violence and masculinity was an engine that drove the writing of “Matrix,” which took place over the gross and vulgar Trump years, loudly animated by a stupid and swaggering violent masculinity. I wanted to get as far away from Trump’s America as possible—so, a twelfth-century convent, a flawed female utopia—while also looking hard at what I see as the precursor of so much of the religious intolerance, white-male supremacy, imperialism, and climate disaster that we’re faced with today. So much about the dying American empire can be articulated by remembering that America is the unchecked outgrowth of the Crusades that took place a millennium ago.” And so this is a book that exercises the reader’s mind on several levels. Firstly, and at a very basic level, it uses a lot of unfamiliar words that, when you look them up, begin their definition with “archaic”. Groff hasn’t tried to write in any kind of ancient English, but she has carefully researched the names of things and the words that were in use in the 12th century so that the writing has a strong feel of the time but is still perfectly comprehensible for a 21st century reader. But there are multiple other layers at work here, I think. I spent a lot of time while reading this book searching for various phrases and connections on the Internet. I didn’t really find what the book was making me think about, but phrases like “island of women”, structures like a labyrinth and all female sexual encounters all start to tie together and left me searching for links between the story Groff has created and other famous stories about communities of women (e.g. Sappho). And on top of this, there’s also the very obvious links to our modern day world. There’s talk of climate change and ecology/conservation. And on top of this there’s Marie de France’s visions that guide her actions in the book and which the book posits as almost a foundation for a very different theology. Of course, though, this is historical fiction with the emphasis (I believe) on the fiction. I searched around for Internet articles about Marie de France and didn’t come across much more than the basic facts. In an interview with Elle magazine, Groff says: “Luckily nobody knows all that much about Marie de France. She’s a person that’s sort of shadowy. There are suppositions about her being an abbess, the illegitimate sister of the king, but again, that’s kind of a beautiful place to go, back into history, to find clues from her own records. And those scholars who’ve read Marie de France will be overjoyed to find a lot of Easter eggs throughout the book, joyous little moments that actually show up in her poems, showing up in the life of my character.” (Not being even remotely familiar with Marie de France’s poetry, I obviously missed all these Easter eggs). The final product here is a very readable story inventing a life for a character about whom history doesn’t know much but who was clearly a major influence. Groff really brings Marie to life for the reader whilst simultaneously giving food for thought. A thoroughly enjoyable read. I’ll be interested to talk with other readers when the book is published in September 2021 because it would be fascinating to hear from people who know this period of history and/or the writings of Marie de France. My thanks to Random House UK for an ARC via NetGalley.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Darryl Suite

    Here’s the thing: gorgeous writing, but I wasn’t invested at all. I really loved the first chapter; convinced I was in store for a new classic. Unfortunately, my interest waned shortly afterward. There were flashes of pure genius, but my biggest problem is that there were no high stakes whatsoever. Every bit of conflict was resolved almost as quickly as it started. Years passed in a matter of pages (sometimes on the same page). And Marie is written in almost a saintly/superhero kind of way: she Here’s the thing: gorgeous writing, but I wasn’t invested at all. I really loved the first chapter; convinced I was in store for a new classic. Unfortunately, my interest waned shortly afterward. There were flashes of pure genius, but my biggest problem is that there were no high stakes whatsoever. Every bit of conflict was resolved almost as quickly as it started. Years passed in a matter of pages (sometimes on the same page). And Marie is written in almost a saintly/superhero kind of way: she can do no-wrong, can do everything, can resolve everything very quickly. As a reader, where’s the fun in that? The writing was exquisite, which I appreciated. Real talk: I wanted to love this, but it bored me.

  22. 5 out of 5

    switterbug (Betsey)

    Groff’s last line in her acknowledgements is, “This book is for my sisters, those of the flesh, and those of the spirit.” I’m just going to declare myself a Groff sister of the spirit, because her novels always hit my sweet spot. When she creates her characters and lets them go free, they bend, rattle, break. They show courage and possess a raw elegance. Marie, made prioress at a shabby abbey at the age of 17, year 1158. Why not be married off? “She a rustic gallowsbird? Three heads too tall, wi Groff’s last line in her acknowledgements is, “This book is for my sisters, those of the flesh, and those of the spirit.” I’m just going to declare myself a Groff sister of the spirit, because her novels always hit my sweet spot. When she creates her characters and lets them go free, they bend, rattle, break. They show courage and possess a raw elegance. Marie, made prioress at a shabby abbey at the age of 17, year 1158. Why not be married off? “She a rustic gallowsbird? Three heads too tall, with her great rough stomping about, with her terrible deep voice, her massive hands and her disputations and her sword practicing?” That’s why. After all, it’s the 12th century. And Marie de France is half bastardess, and she is banished by the one she loves. But Marie’s pride is her paradox in life—both sacred and profane. Matrix is epic adventure and drama, a little Coven-ish (Groff has a talent for the goblin-esque and great outdoors), and urbane wit in a rustic, cloistered setting. If you are seeking formula, this book isn’t for you. If plot is #1 for you, look elsewhere. This is character and theme-driven. Marie matures in the abbey, because she has mettle and noble blood, oozes charisma, and alights a little heretic inside her spirited soul. What she thinks about when not in prayer or doing abbey business: “And through the countryside, the women will tell stories, woman to woman, servant to servant and lady to lady, and the stories will spread north and south upon this island, and the stories will alchemize into legends, and the legends will serve as cautionary tales, and her nuns will be made doubly safe through story most powerful.” Just read it if you love literature and imagination. Plus Groff’s wordsmithing will make you melt. I love how she can take a setting, the ecclesiastic and monastic, 12th century, and give us the exaltation of religion but in the form of tone, character, atmosphere, setting, and narrative, too. Groff shows us even when she’s not telling. She’s such a visual and balanced writer, all the parts fit. Marie de France and a few others are unforgettable. "Prayer helps, but what helps more are stories."

  23. 5 out of 5

    Elaine

    I admit Hist Fic is not my favorite genre, but anytime I see something new that is not set in WWII, I give it a try. The blurb reminded me of Pillars of the Earth, a novel I dearly love, and I hoped it would similarly capture my heart. It did not. Marie de France, a bastard cousin of Eleanor of Aquitaine, is cast out of the French court by the future queen. She makes Marie prioress of a decrepit abbey in England where the nuns are starving and stricken by disease. Marie, a huge woman with a sharp I admit Hist Fic is not my favorite genre, but anytime I see something new that is not set in WWII, I give it a try. The blurb reminded me of Pillars of the Earth, a novel I dearly love, and I hoped it would similarly capture my heart. It did not. Marie de France, a bastard cousin of Eleanor of Aquitaine, is cast out of the French court by the future queen. She makes Marie prioress of a decrepit abbey in England where the nuns are starving and stricken by disease. Marie, a huge woman with a sharp mind, improves the state of the abbey and nuns. Over time, the abbey becomes incredibly wealthy and when she is nearly 50yo, Marie and her sisters take up swords on horseback to defend the abbey against invading soldiers. Lauren Groff imagines Marie de France beset by guilt over her lesbian leanings and prone to dreams and visions of holy figures, mother earth symbolism, and women loving each other in ways frowned upon by the Church. To be honest, I probably should've DNF'd this at the first description of her lust for Elise, a young girl sent to the abbey for poor behaviour. It was pretty icky, and not at all what I wanted from this book. On top of all that, the writing was so freaking boring. If guilt-ridden nuns seeking each other out well into their mature years is your thing, have at Matrix.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I have enjoyed previous novels by Lauren Groff, so I was pleased to receive a copy of her latest work. This is a historical novel, which is very loosely based upon a real person, Marie de France, a poet who lived in England in the twelfth century. Nothing much is known about her life, but her writings certainly defied many Church teachings, and, in the same way, the central novel of this novel is certainly not a conformist. Marie is the illegitimate half-sister of Queen Eleanor. Unlike the beauti I have enjoyed previous novels by Lauren Groff, so I was pleased to receive a copy of her latest work. This is a historical novel, which is very loosely based upon a real person, Marie de France, a poet who lived in England in the twelfth century. Nothing much is known about her life, but her writings certainly defied many Church teachings, and, in the same way, the central novel of this novel is certainly not a conformist. Marie is the illegitimate half-sister of Queen Eleanor. Unlike the beautiful Eleanor, Marie is tall, ungainly, and lacks grace. Her earlier life had been spent with her mother and aunts, who hunted and fought and so she finds herself an uncomfortable presence at Court. Then life takes a turn for the worse, as Eleanor decides this odd half-sister has a role at a remote Abbey. Sickness rages, the sisters are poor and half-starved, the Abbey mis-managed and the atmosphere among the women argumentative and difficult. This is the story of Marie’s rise from her initial unwillingness to accept her fate, to her creating success out of a situation which – at first – seems impossible. From having no vocation and only plotting to return to Court, she finds a way to cope with her loss of family, comfort and status. Of dealing with the Sub prioress Goda, who is sly, cruel and ambitious and whose hopes are dashed by Marie’s arrival. Lauren Groff has a wonderful sense of place. You feel the deep, shattering cold, the discomfort, the sheer exhaustion of Marie’s early time at the Abbey, where life is ruled by prayer. Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, Chapter, None, Vespers, Collation, Compline… She also writes well of an all-female community; the petty resentments, jealousies and desires. Overall, a well written novel and a good insight into the hardship of life faced by women in religious communities at that time. I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sunny

    An expansive historical fiction about a bitter, too tall, unsightly 17 year old bastardess french girl getting sent to a convent to become a nun should not have been this engaging, funny, feminist, lesbian, and visceral. The tragedies of the mundanities and the mundanities of the great women and changes of history and present and future…. A story masterfully told!! Maybe I should do like a vlog reading Lauren Groff’s other book because both this and Florida, her short story collection, are so go An expansive historical fiction about a bitter, too tall, unsightly 17 year old bastardess french girl getting sent to a convent to become a nun should not have been this engaging, funny, feminist, lesbian, and visceral. The tragedies of the mundanities and the mundanities of the great women and changes of history and present and future…. A story masterfully told!! Maybe I should do like a vlog reading Lauren Groff’s other book because both this and Florida, her short story collection, are so good, but like very different. I just love a religious story in a realistically historical setting with a queer/feminist/liberatory twist.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

    This is based on the life of real 12th Century poet Marie de France. Very little is known about her, including whether or not Marie is her real name. Eleanor of Acquitane casts Marie out of France at the age of seventeen to live in a shambolic, run-down Abbey in England. Marie is initially devastated not only at this rejection by Eleanor (who she seems to have a thing for) but also at the state of the Abbey. This makes her question her faith, but as time goes on, she decides to make the best of This is based on the life of real 12th Century poet Marie de France. Very little is known about her, including whether or not Marie is her real name. Eleanor of Acquitane casts Marie out of France at the age of seventeen to live in a shambolic, run-down Abbey in England. Marie is initially devastated not only at this rejection by Eleanor (who she seems to have a thing for) but also at the state of the Abbey. This makes her question her faith, but as time goes on, she decides to make the best of her situation and try to turn things around at the Abbey. She does, in spectacular fashion, and I've no real idea how she did that because the pacing is funny. At one point four years go by in one page. Marie begins to have visions from the Virgin Mary telling her what she needs to do to save herself and the other women from the end of Christianity. The writing is lovely, Lauren Groff definitely knows how to write historical fiction (as we saw with her Greek mythology in Fates and Furies) but I just don't have enough knowledge of this time period to appreciate this to the fullest extent. There were SO many characters to keep track of. Dozens of nuns, none with any unique identifiers (except the mean one who wanted to lash the pregnant woman). There's a lot of very graphic stuff in here - there's a childbirth scene that's very upsetting so that's something to keep in mind. My main issue was that by the end of the book, even though we had supposedly just gone through a woman's entire life, I didn't know her as a human being. At the beginning, she was motivated by survival, then by Eleanor's rejection, then by the visions, then by proving a point - I just felt like she was really detached. Even during the parts where she had relationships with others or dalliances with some of the women - although the scenes were written beautifully I didn't feel much emotion from Marie. And that's fine, maybe she wasn't an emotional person, but I just couldn't figure her out and as a result had very little interest in her. If you like historical fiction, prize winning books (because I'm sure this will be nominated for several), or books that fall under the literary fiction genre, then you might get on better with this. I just don't have the brain power to keep track of this many nuns at the minute, unfortunately. Thank you to the publisher for the eARC via Netgalley

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jillian Doherty

    An author as talented and varied as they come!!! I've loved every different style and offering she's written, and only continues to elevate herself here! Starting in the year 1158, Marie de France is 17 and cast to leave her highborn lifestyle to live in an impoverished sanctuary with nuns who are struggling as much as she is. (she has be at hello with this deliciously original premise and story illustration she's famous for) Marie's legacy story continues, to encompassing decades of love, sensual An author as talented and varied as they come!!! I've loved every different style and offering she's written, and only continues to elevate herself here! Starting in the year 1158, Marie de France is 17 and cast to leave her highborn lifestyle to live in an impoverished sanctuary with nuns who are struggling as much as she is. (she has be at hello with this deliciously original premise and story illustration she's famous for) Marie's legacy story continues, to encompassing decades of love, sensuality, faith, loss, and rebirth in everyway one can endure and evolve. All while keeping the story to only female voices throughout its entirety! This story was no small task, and hits the mark so stunningly. Galley borrowed from the publisher.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    I’m always impressed when a respected novelist tries something new. So it is with Lauren Groff and Matrix: its setting in medieval England constitutes a radical departure from Groff’s previous novels and short stories set in contemporary America. In Matrix, Groff creates a mythic figure and a mythic medieval feminist community. It’s a good, well told, feel good story, which would have affected me more if it had been tempered with less heroism and triumphalism. 3.5 stars

  29. 5 out of 5

    ☘Misericordia☘ ⚡ϟ⚡⛈⚡☁ ❇️❤❣

    Q: Marie knew how to run a large estate, she could write in four languages, she could keep account books, she did all this so admirably after her mother died, even though still a tender little maiden, and what’s more she did it so well that she fooled the whole world into thinking for two years that she was her own dead mother. (c) Q: the girls in her own family used to be told that they’d be strangled if they turned out like their unwomanly cousins, all wild, flying across the countryside scandalo Q: Marie knew how to run a large estate, she could write in four languages, she could keep account books, she did all this so admirably after her mother died, even though still a tender little maiden, and what’s more she did it so well that she fooled the whole world into thinking for two years that she was her own dead mother. (c) Q: the girls in her own family used to be told that they’d be strangled if they turned out like their unwomanly cousins, all wild, flying across the countryside scandalously galloping astride, with their swordfighting and daggerwork tutors and their knowledge of eight dialects and even some Arabic and Greek, all those dusty manuscripts, those loud opinionated unnatural women talking over each other, arguing, drawing blood, learning the battleaxe, so strange and so uncouth. (c) Q: Marie will be allowed back to the court, to the place where none ever starve, and there is always music and dogs and birds and life, where at dusk the gardens are full of lovers and flowers and intrigue, where Marie can practice her languages and hear in the halls the fiery tails of new ideas shooting through conversations. (c) Q: Perhaps the song of a bird in a chamber is more precious than the wild bird’s because the chamber itself makes it so. Perhaps the free air that gives the wild bird its better song in fact limits the reach of its prayer. So small, this understanding. So remarkably tiny. Still, it might be enough to live for. (c)

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mimi

    I don’t get it. I have yet to like a Lauren Groff book and this is no exception. Why all the hype?

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