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Reviews of Matrix by Lauren Groff

Matrix

by Lauren Groff

Matrix by Lauren Groff X
Matrix by Lauren Groff
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2021, 272 pages

    Paperback:
    Sep 2022, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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About this Book

Book Summary

Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, seventeen-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.

One of our best American writers, Lauren Groff returns with her exhilarating first new novel since the groundbreaking Fates and Furies.

One

1.

She rides out of the forest alone. Seventeen years old, in the cold March drizzle, Marie who comes from France.

It is 1158 and the world bears the weariness of late Lent. Soon it will be Easter, which arrives early this year. In the fields, the seeds uncurl in the dark cold soil, ready to punch into the freer air. She sees for the first time the abbey, pale and aloof on a rise in this damp valley, the clouds drawn up from the ocean and wrung against the hills in constant rainfall. Most of the year this place is emerald and sapphire, bursting under dampness, thick with sheep and chaffinches and newts, delicate mushrooms poking from the rich soil, but now in late winter, all is gray and full of shadows.

Her old warhorse glumly plods along and a merlin shivers in its wicker mew on the box mounted behind her.

The wind hushes. The trees cease stirring.

Marie feels that the whole countryside is watching her move through it.

She is tall, a giantess of a maiden, and her elbows and knees ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. Matrix takes place in a twelfth-century abbey and explores the life of a powerful and singular figure, Marie of France, set against a rapidly changing world order. What themes in the book resonated with you as you think about the modern-day challenges we face as a society?
  2. Marie has a complex, nearly lifelong relationship with Queen Eleanor. When she meets the queen for the first time as a child, what are her impressions? How does her relationship with the queen change over the course of the book? Her feelings about Queen Eleanor are described as "terrible love." What accounts for Marie's feelings? Do you see the obsession as mutual? To what degree do these feelings shape Marie's ambitions for herself? For the abbey?
  3. One of the most ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Groff's language casts a spell over the reader — words like "misericord" and "cellatrix" and "scriptorium" are plentiful. Characters have names like Amphelisa, Wevua and Wulfhild Thrasher. Those who need more than these linguistic oddities and inflections for entertainment will find the plot to be substantial and riveting. We know little of the real Marie de France, which makes Matrix all the more impressive. Groff's Marie is made magnificent by her Crusader backstory, chivalrous in her unrequited love, visionary in both religion and the reinvention of herself...continued

Full Review (759 words)

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(Reviewed by Lisa Butts).

Media Reviews

New York Times
Perhaps the greatest pleasure of this novel is also its most subtle. Groff is a gifted writer capable of deft pyrotechnics and well up to the challenges she sets herself, including that of rendering feverish apparitions of the Virgin as recorded by a seminal poet of the Western canon. One senses she doesn't so much struggle to create her vision but is borne aloft on it, which is the page-by-page pleasure as we soar with her.

NPR
A radiant novel about the 12th-century poet and mystic Marie de France...Groff richly imagines Marie's decades of exile in a royal convent, which she eventually leads. A charged novel about female ambition.

Washington Post
At the center of Groff's story is Marie de France, a shadowy writer known today as the author of a series of courtly love poems. The rest of Marie's biography is an open conjecture, and Groff rides into that lacuna on a noble steed.

The Guardian (UK)
[I]n an appealingly unpredictable move, Lauren Groff has turned her attentions to 12th-century English nuns. The result is a highly distinctive novel of great vigour and boldness ... we are carried on the force of her style, and held by the strength of an intelligence that lets comedy and emotional complexity work together...an assertively modern novel about leadership, ambition and enterprise, and about the communal life of individuals.

Booklist (starred review)
Splendid with rich description and period vocabulary, this courageous and spine-tingling novel shows an incredible range for Groff (Florida, 2018), and will envelop readers fully in Marie's world, interior and exterior, all senses lit up. It is both a complete departure and an easy-to-envision tale of faith, power, and temptation.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Groff's trademarkworthy sentences bring vivid buoyancy to a magisterial story.

Library Journal (starred review)
Both epic and intimate, this powerful and sneakily complex record of womankind's collective strength and industry in a world pitched against them is bolstered by Groff's rich, fertile prose.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Groff fills the novel with friendships among the nuns, inspirational apparitions, and writings empowered by divine inspiration. Transcendent prose and vividly described settings bring to life historic events, from the Crusades to the papal interdict of 1208. Groff has outdone herself.

Author Blurb Brit Bennett, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Half
Both epic and intimate, this sweeping novel explores questions of female ambition, creativity and passion with electrifying prose and sparkling wit. A propulsive, captivating read.

Author Blurb C Pam Zhang, author of How Much of These Hills is Gold
Matrix is alive with lust and glory. In the incandescent Marie de France – visionary, cantankerous and uncowed by the constraints of her sex – Groff paints a portrait of sisterhood that shines out of the past and into the lives of women today.

Author Blurb Emma Donoghue, author of Room
A thrillingly vivid, adventurous story about women and power that will blow readers' minds. Left me gasping.

Author Blurb Sarah Waters, New York Times bestselling author of The Paying Guests
An audacious piece of storytelling, full of passion, wisdom and magic.

Reader Reviews

Cathryn Conroy

A Literary Gift! This Is a Masterpiece of Historical Fiction
This is a book about female empowerment set during a time when women were considered property and had no voice, no say, and most of all no power. Women were nothing. But in the hands of spectacular author Lauren Groff, these women—nuns in the Middle ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Eleanor of Aquitaine

19th century engraving of Eleanor of Aquitaine In Lauren Groff's novel Matrix, the protagonist Marie (based on 12th century poet Marie de France) spends the majority of her life pining for Eleanor of Aquitaine. This real-life queen of France and England serves as Marie's foil and the source of considerable turmoil, as both women seek to hold and maintain power over their very different kingdoms.

Eleanor was born circa 1122 the eldest daughter of William, the 10th Duke of Aquitaine, which was at the time an independent kingdom in modern day Bordeaux, France. When her father died in 1137, 15-year-old Eleanor became Duchess of Aquitaine and inherited a fortune, and soon after she wed France's King Louis VII (at which point Aquitaine became a French territory). In 1147, the marriage ...

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Read-Alikes

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