Cover Image: Matrix

Matrix

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Member Reviews

This is a wonderful book, unlike Groff's earlier work but very much her own, a sprawling historical novel written sparsely and in so fewer pages than most historic epics, and really does wonders of helping the reader empathize and under a woman of the protagonist's time, complicating her and providing a riveting, heartbreaking, and often heartwarming story that is compelling and delicious, as much as it can be frightening and compulsively readable, all in equal measures.  Such a great book!
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This book is great! Would definitely recommend. Thanks so much to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.
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This was just as brilliant as all of her other books, and I was truly obsessed—even if you think it’s not the type of book you typically read, I think it’s worth checking out
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Lauren Groff’s latest novel, Matrix, focuses on Marie de France, a poet who lived in the 12th century and may have originated the lais – a type of medieval tale told in the form of verse.  Beyond her writings, little is known although she has been rumored to be of royal birth and perhaps to have been a nun.  Groff incorporates both theories in her tale which centers around Marie’s success in turning a small, starving group of nuns into a large, successful religious enterprise.  Marie strives to create a safe haven and even a type of utopia for women in a harsh and violent world.  Her character is described as a virago  who almost becomes a super-heroine of sorts by accomplishing fantastic feats based upon her religious visions, and shear strength of will.  An interesting peek into the life of the convent during the European Middle Ages as well as life for women during that period generally.  I enjoyed the book tremendously - while suspending disbelief as required with the understanding that faith and belief may have measured on a different scale once upon a time…though, perhaps not.  An interesting and thought-provoking read.

A free copy of this book was provided to me in exchange for my honest opinion.
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I have read Lauren Groff's books and enjoyed them. However, Matrix stunned me. It is a page turner with so much to teach the reader. People will enjoy learning about history, nuns, living conditions, and humanity. I know this will be a huge hit with book groups.
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I really wanted to like this book, set in the medieval era with a little known authoress who defied the conventions of her time as the main character, what could be better? A little more action, a bit more of showing not telling. Though beautifully written--the language is exquisite--we are much in Marie de France's head. Despite this, major decisions are left unexplained and major undertakings are covered in a page or two. An event like a 17-year-old newly minted prioress almost single handedly driving non-paying tenants off church lands should have been commiserate with this character having a bit of a thought process and perhaps a little planning and enlisting of support. Instead, the reader is just told that Marie did this. Ok, how? This dissonance is characteristic of the book. While there is some fascinating back story about Marie's young life and motivations, she is a difficult character to relate to because interior and exterior events don't consistently correlate and are not given equal attention, a lost opportunity for a potentially heroic character.

Full Disclosure--NetGalley and the publisher provided me with a digital ARC of this book. This is my honest review.
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An interesting story. Reminds me of the Follett cathedral series. I can see why this is very popular now. ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.
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It truly pains me to set this book down, for in theory it ticks all of my boxes. Groff’s extensive research and advanced vocabulary in this book are truly impressive, but the staccato writing style leaves no space for the reader to empathize with Marie’s condition.
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We included Matrix in our Publishing This Week newsletter sent to 35,000 with an open rate of 31%.
https://myemail.constantcontact.com/Publishing-This-Week--New-Novels-from-Sally-Rooney--Lauren-Groff--Colm-Toibin-and-Many-More.html?soid=1102200958905&aid=K9Im94cDVw0

It was also included in the Publishing This Week section on BookBrowse and in our notable books publishing next month lineup (which is also sent to subscribing librarians), and in our Publishing This Week feature on Facebook.

In addition, we published a review and "beyond the book" article which was featured on BookBrowse for a week. Details on this were sent to publicity at the time. Links below

Review:
https://www.bookbrowse.com/mag/reviews/index.cfm/ref/tb276864/matrix#reviews

Beyond the Book:
https://www.bookbrowse.com/mag/btb/index.cfm/ref/tb276864/matrix#btb
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I loved this gorgeously written novel, based VERY loosely on the life of Marie de France, a medieval poet from the 12th century. In Groff’s story, she draws on some historians’ theories about Marie, including her illegitimate links to The Plantagenets, and how Marie, and the English Abbess Mary of Shaftesbury could be one in the same. Groff focuses on Marie with a feminist eye, banished from court to a poverty stricken nunnery, and her life as a feisty Abbess as she leads these women to prosper. I always love this author, but I wasn’t expecting so much of her wry humor in this one, and it was a lovely surprise. Fun, feminist and lush, these bite size chunks of this woman’s life, had me gripped.
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When Matrix is read, the reader takes a trip back to the 1200s, the good, the bad, and a lot of ugly.  Even Marie finding herself at the abbey is not a pretty story--shunted off because she was a product of rape and not a beautiful child.  The book has no real plot--it has ups and downs, the good that Marie does at the abbey for her nuns and the downs--pregnant nuns, inopportune deaths, and a flood that took livestock and one nun.  But most of all it just a story of a life--maybe not a planned one, but a life of those times and of a woman that rose to the challenge.
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What a fantastic read ! Marie is forced into a nunnery by her beloved Eleanor of Aquitaine. At first despondent, she then decides to make the abbey successful. Marie is a visionary and poet. Groff’s writing is beautiful and lyrical. The only part of this book which did not work for me was the cover- I hope they change it for the paperback edition as it gives no hint at what the book is about. A medieval scene would draw more readers.
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What was it like to be a nun during medieval times?  Lauren Groff explores this question in her new book Matrix.  Intermingled among the details of what life in a poor, isolated abbey was like is the development of an amazing character.  At 17, Marie is exiled as prioress to this cold, damp impoverished abbey by her half sister , Queen Eleanor.  Ungainly, larger than most men strong -willed Marie learns to reconcile her life to her situation.  She takes the nuns in hand and becomes a force to be reckoned with in the surrounding countryside.  This is an amazing book, mingling strong characters, with a well developed plot that also tackles issues of the environment and feminism.
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From the get go the writing is gorgeous. It was hard to put down and a fascinating story. highly recommend to historical fiction lovers!
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The Matrix by Lauren Groff is historical fiction very loosely based on the life of Marie de France. We learn very little of Marie's early life, only that she has had to fend for herself from a very young age. It is made apparent very quickly that Marie is strong, not only in her large body, but also in her quick and cunning mind. She is a problem solver and someone with her own thoughts, which is not the norm or the expected for a woman in the 12th century.
When Marie is sent away from the court to an abbey, her first thoughts are how to reverse her fortune and get back into the queen's grace, and house. When those efforts prove fruitless she makes the decision to throw every ounce of her energy into building the abbey into a thriving community for the women who live and work there. Marie takes her job as prioress very seriously. She sees herself as the true mother of all those who are in her care. She used her intelligence and cunning to turn the abbey from struggling with the nuns going to bed hungry every night, to a thriving community which is fully self sustainable. As time goes on Marie begins to have "visions" which tell her to expand the abbey, it's reach and it's wealth even further, but all while ensuring that the nuns remain safe and isolated from the cruel world outside of their gates.
Marie could certainly be branded a feminist in a time when women were not strong or powerful. At first it appears that all of the decisions she is making are for the betterment of the nuns and those in her charge, but as her power grows, questions arise as to her true motivations. Is this actually to impress the queen, or to outdo her and usurp some power from the throne? It also becomes clear that what at first appears to be expansive and contemporary visions by Marie, are actually complete tunnel vision. This is alluded to a few times in the novel- her creation of the labyrinth displaces wildlife and changes the ecosystem of the land, and her installation of a lock system floods a valley, causing destruction and death to others. Marie does not seem to be bothered by these unintended consequences, she is only focused on herself and the abbey.
In the end, she definitely gives the women of the abbey purpose, pride and a much improved life, but you are left to question if she has gone too far and for what purpose. Is she glorifying God, or herself?
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Inspired by a lecture she listened to about a medieval nun, Goff took the bare facts and made Marie de France into a flesh and blood woman, who used the power of her position of abbess of an impoverished monastery. Through her determination and belief that women did have power she turns the ragtag community into one of power.  Of course, the church did not like her. She decided she could perform mass and wrote of a female god.  She begins to see herself as having papal privileges, as she and the other nuns create intimate sexual liaisons between each other.  All in all the story builds up to giving the reader a look at what it means to be a chaste, good and moral nun
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Exceptionally well written. I was so transported that I didn't care if it was historically accurate, but was amazed at just how modern the story was. This story could easily take place in the modern era with just a few tweaks. Wonder what that says about society?

Beautiful coming of age story of a strong female character who uses her strength to improve the lives of those around her. Compassionate relationships between women.

One of my favorite reads of 2021. I wish I could give it justice here.
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The story is based on Marie de France, whom I knew very little about before. A story of a nun, Marie, who completely transforms an abbey. That’s about all you need to know before you go into reading this. I had mixed feelings about this. I enjoyed the incredible writing and it was definitely worth it just for that but it was hard to get into the story at first. I understand that sometimes it takes a little before you get invested in it but I felt like it took a little too long for me. I would still recommend this book because Lauren Groff is a fantastic writer.
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I'm sure this book has its perfect reader out there but it's not me. With very sharp and restrained language, I struggled to fill in the details related to place and culture (France in the Middle Ages isn't particularly familiar to me!) The characters, and ultimately their purpose, remained a mystery to me.
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This is one of my favorite novels of the year. Groff is always amazing but, with this novel, she's set a new high bar. I hope to write an essay about historical fiction about women and will be discussing this novel among others.

There are entire sections I've marked that I know I will keep revisiting to read for the language and the themes.
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