Cover Image: Matrix

Matrix

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What do you do with a wellborn woman who doesn't fit into your society's norms for "ladies". If its the 12th Century a convent is a good place to send them. Thus we find Marie of France, a woman who had been off to the Crusades as a child' sent to an abbey by her benefactress. Eleanor of Aquitaine.  Ah, is this really as bad as it seems? Can Marie turn this into an opportunity? A good story of strong women managing to take power within the constraints of the medieval period.
(This review is of an advance reader copy.)
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Not my particular cup of tea, though I’ve never been a huge fan of Ms. Groff’s. That being said, she’s obviously a very talented novelist and deserves a place in any collection!
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Friends: This is 100% not my speed and I fucking loved it. I wept, more than once. More importantly, I felt, quite inexplicably, almost impossibly, actually, like part of the story, or, more precisely, like this story, which has not one thing in the world to do with me, was for me...too.
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If you want unique historical fiction, check out Lauren Groff's latest, a 12th century historical fiction piece about a reluctant nun, the abbey she brings under her control, and the impact on the world around her. This is part side-tracked royal history, part abbey exploration, full Lauren Groff's magical writing and piercing characters. No Catholicism required to enjoy.
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In the ideal abbey, the nuns are liberated from the demands that society places upon other women. They are free to create their own little haven, free to love each other any way they like, free to posit a divine feminine and direct their prayers to Mary and female saints, free to care for one another under the soothing if demanding rhythms of the monastic routine and the holy seasons. 

Under the patronage of Eleanor of Acquitaine, 12th-century Marie de France does all of this and more, starting with a poor abbey with a few underfed, demoralized nuns. She exerts amazing leadership as Abbess while becoming an author, poet, mystic, and legend. 

Marie's abbey is sometimes rocked by corruption in Rome, the vicissitudes of politics, and even sometimes the demanding extremes of Marie's ambitions. The nuns must be ready to pay any tax or tribute that the authorities demand. This doesn't stop them from creating an extraordinary world that is almost like an empire, on their secluded and blessed isle. As always when women carve out exclusive space, men are both suspicious and intrusive.

This is a tour de force with compelling characterization—a hard-hitting feminist novel that rivals the best fiction of Rumer Godden on the monastic life. Groff invites the reader to imagine a history in which religion was shaped not by warriors, monks, and male church councils, but by muscular mystic nuns like Marie who simply crave scholarship, love, and peace.
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Lauren Groff is incredible. This book seemed very thoroughly researched. There are a lot of historical fiction novels that are bestsellers that are no where near this caliber of writing and research. I will definitely recommend. Thank you for allowing me to read it!
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This is such a magnificent book. It's beautifully written; it delivers an amazing portrayal of life as it might have been in a medieval abbey; it has memorable and fully realized characters. But the thing that really makes this book sing is how it runs counter to so many standard expectations.

The book's opening scans like a bildungsroman, so you might reasonably expect to spend the first hundred pages with young Marie grappling with her new role as a prioress, but we spend very little time with young Marie, and much, much more with Marie as she is in her middle age, at the height of her power. And then, given that power, you might anticipate conflict, an external enemy: but there isn't any. Oh, there's conflict, but it's multiple little conflicts, each dealt with in a handful of pages, but no overarching antagonist, nothing nearly so clean cut. More than anything else - more than rooting us in the time and place of the abbey, more than depicting Marie's amassing of power - there is always a sense of life in motion, the action cutting away to give us a look at the goings-on of the most minor of minor characters before swinging back around to Marie again. And all these characters, it should be said, are women. There is no named male character in this book. In fact, the word "men" doesn't make an appearance at all.

They're still there, in the periphery. But unnamed, all their actions serve to do is to throw the nuns and Marie into sharper relief. It's amazing, really what Groff is able to say with this bit of white space, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't find their absence refreshing. 

Ever so slightly less enjoyable is Groff's attempt at addressing climate change here. It works when she discusses the direct impact Marie's building projects have on the environment, but it becomes hokey when she tries to shoehorn the earth's warming into Marie's visions.

There are a few other unwieldly elements in here for me (I don't know that I really needed each construction projected detailed to me), but they don't take much away from the overall brilliance of this book. It is a truly beautiful novel, and I would definitely recommend it.
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I felt ambivalent about this one. On the one hand, this is sort of a love story to ancient female power and strength---how can you not root for Marie, who is the champion of the abbey for decades, who is clever, compassionate, bold and creative in a time when women most certainly were viewed as an underclass? The novel feels like an anthem, but perhaps too much an in-your-face anthem.

Despite the likeability of the story (Marie is a heroine, through and through, with few missteps), I found the book strangely flat. Perhaps it's the writing style, with dialogue captured in the main text, or the fact that because the book spans so many years, characters come and go without making a true impression.

In some ways, this book felt like an arcane history lesson on the operation and make-up of a Benedictine abbey (which made sense after reading Groff's afterword, which described her research). The detail was interesting but distracting.

Altogether uneven, though I am positive this will be a commercial success and a popular read. Would recommend.
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The world of literary and historical fiction consists of writers, authors, and artists. Lauren Groff is an artist. 

I first came across Ms. Groff when publicists for her 2008 debut novel, “Monsters of Templeton” introduced her as a native of Cooperstown, New York, raised two blocks from the Baseball Hall of Fame. Sold. I have been hooked ever since. “Arcadia” was released to great acclaim in 2012 and resonated with me 100%. “Fates and Furies” (2015) blew me away. Lots of great short stories, essays, literary criticism, and public appearances have had me constantly checking her Website and Social Media to make sure that I was keeping up. Her 2018 collection “Florida” is spectacular, authentic, at turns hysterically funny, most often disturbingly real. It truly captures the weirdness of my adopted home. 

“Matrix” heralds the end of a 6-year wait for a fourth novel. I was slightly taken aback by the initial description of the story as about ”….seventeen-year-old Marie de France----sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey, its nuns on the brink of starvation and beset by disease…” That’s not my usual “cuppa”. But it’s published by Riverhead {who I love and has never steered me wrong), and it’s a novel by the artist Lauren Goff.  I know that it will be beautifully written and that it will be mind-boggling, and that I will be impacted in a deep way. 

“Matrix” is a profoundly feminist and matriarchal book. Men are hardly mentioned and, when they are, they are characterized as crude creatures hardly higher on the chain of evolution than low-level animals, dangerous, and deceitful. Women do everything and do it in a highly competent manner. Once again, Lauren Groff exceeded my expectations. The beautiful writing and characterizations were top-notch, as I knew they would be. But “Matrix” is a far more complex and compelling narrative that kept my close attention throughout. Highly recommended.

Thank you to Riverhead Books and NetGalley for the eARC.
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This book is unusually quiet. Quiet is such a weird descriptor, right? This book is like a cold wet stone.
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Deemed too large, coarse, and ugly for either marriage or life at the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Marie de France is sent to become prioress of a small, poor abbey in England at the age of 17. From there Marie leads a life of surprising success as she keeps correspondence with Eleanor from afar and tends to the needs of her abbey. Beautifully constructed and feverishly told, Matrix will draw you in and pull you through the currents of Marie's life effortlessly.
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Groff is an master of syntax and metaphor. Her descriptions of place and time are simple yet affective. This little novel features well-developed and interesting characters but I found some issues with the pacing, which was slow despite the overall sense of yearning and urgency. It was an interesting dichotomy. Thanks for the ARC, NetGalley. :)
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When I saw Lauren Groff had a new title coming soon I was extremely excited because of my experience with "Fates and Furies." This latest effort deals with Marie, someone who is removed from the royal court of Eleanor of Aquitaine for being perceived as too rough to be marriage material so instead becomes an abbess of a 12th century nunnery. There are hefty doses of sensualism and religious ecstacy to include a few descriptive visions with the virgin Mary. Overall my impression that the author is fantastic hasn't changed, I just think this one wasn't my cup of tea. Thank you to the publisher for providing me with this drc available through netgalley.
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Lauren Goff's Matrix features truly gorgeous writing that immerses you in a fascinating time period. Most impressive is the portrayal of Marie of France's growing power and confidence without making her seem anachronistic.
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Lauren Groff's tale of an extraordinary nun finding her place in a world where women were not valued was mesmerizing.  The  wasI vivid and rich.  I knew what it was to live in Marie's head and world. I would highly reccommend.
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A tour de force

Groff has pulled it off again: writing historical fiction for the first time, she manages to make the 12th century both contemporary and exotic. Her research is evident on every page and fascinating. But it is the heart and soul of her heroine that stays with the reader. Haunting and beautiful.
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This was a book that I really wanted to love, being a huge Lauren Groff fan, but it was hard for me to get through some of the too-detailed historical elements. It was a great first half, but I skimmed through the rest of it.
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Like many people enraptured by "Fates & Furies," I've been waiting for the last six years to get my hands on a new Lauren Groff novel. Matrix is a different flavor entirely than Groff's previous work–a historic novel that focuses on the life of an illegitimate royal assigned to life at an impoverished abbey. The subject matter wouldn't necessarily compel me to pick this one up, but I trust Groff, and "Matrix" demonstrates why that's a wise decision. The abbess, based on the real historical poet Marie de France, quietly radicalizes her abbey, transforming it from a place of exile to a home and shelter, a place where women are shielded almost entirely from the opposite sex, and find succor, safety, and satisfaction in their work. Even if you skim right past the historical  Easter eggs Groff carefully places in the book, it's a lovely, meditative read. I enjoyed it tremendously, and the only drawback is that once again I have to wait for Groff's next book.
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I am a huge Lauren Groff fan.  I loved Fates and Furies.  And I liked the first part of this book.  I wish I had researched Marie de France before I started the book.  (I will suggest doing that to my customers.). Groff's depiction of 12th century Angleterre is specific, detailed, and perfect.  Marie, tall, big, and homely, is lovingly portrayed with all her skills and faults.
I got bogged down about the last third of book and found myself skimming (never a good sign).
I think it will be a hard book to hand sell because of the time period, the subject, and the deep paragraphs.
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This novel, imagining the life of Marie de France, was pure fun—especially after having read <i>The Corner That Held Them</i>—another tale of an abbey set a couple of centuries later—earlier this year. Groff inhabits the "what if" of history really adeptly, and Marie's story is interesting, spirited, and ultimately infused with a gentle affirmation of faith that doesn't grate.
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