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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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When I first read the description of Matrix, I wasn’t quite sure if I would enjoy it or not. I ended up really liking it though! The prose was beautiful and I loved Marie’s strength and ingenuity. This book in some ways reminded me of Circe by Madeline Miller, which is another book I really enjoyed.
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Matrix was my first of Lauren Groff's books and it seems to be very different from her previous works--not that that's a bad thing. The novel follows Marie, a black sheep, as she is shunted away from her remaining family and stuck in a convent which she eventually changes for the better. The book was very atmospheric and it is clear that Groff did incredible research for the book. While Marie was a very compelling and interesting character, I do wish that the book felt like it had more of a direction. It's so focused on atmosphere of the every day life that it begins to feel a bit monotonous. I still really enjoyed it and read the book in two sittings.
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In her new novel, Lauren Groff brilliantly recreates 12th-century England, a landscape of two cultures owing to its conquest a century earlier by the Norman French. (Remember 1066?)

Matrix narrates the inner life of a fictionally reconstituted “Marie de France.” Scholars disagree on precisely who the actual Marie was, but she makes occasional appearances in the historical record as a poet, fabulist, and religious visionary usually associated with the Anglo-Norman monarch Henry II and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

The story is set in an impoverished English nunnery recently coming under Norman sway, where 17-year-old Marie is sent by the queen to become abbess-in-waiting. 

Groff’s Marie is a child of rape. Her noble mother is Queen Eleanor’s sister. Disdained for the circumstances of her creation, Marie is also notoriously tall and gangly and anything but well favored when it comes to facial beauty. And she’s resentful of what she sees as her abrupt banishment from the court, the nexus of meaningful life in the realm.

In Marie’s world, both victors and vanquished share a common Catholic culture, but their native languages diverge vastly. The Norman rulers are Francophones, while their subjects speak a tongue — befuddling to Marie — closer to the guttural Anglo-Saxon familiar to us from Beowulf, a language then undergoing a glacial change into a new Frenchified amalgam. 

Beyond the linguistic, a rash of other dualities stands out: the exuberant excess of the Norman nobles versus the hardscrabble poverty among the English commoners; the strict vow of chastity versus the human urge for sexual expression among the abbey’s sisters; and the rarely questioned authority of Church and State versus Marie’s independent streak. Most significantly, though, the central opposition in Matrix is a far more consequential one — the gulf between the mindsets and customary roles of women versus those of men. 

Like ungainly Marie, this interplay towers over the others, spinning the narrative headlong into a resonant feminist transfiguration. What results is a propulsive, enchanting, and emotionally charged read.

Both the historical and fictional Marie write charming short poems (or “lais”) rooted in the conventionally male-centric trope of courtly love. In them, noble knights, steadfastly and (in large part) chastely loyal to a distant love object, usually a queen, wander dark forests alert to wayward signs and wonders. 

Groff upends the underlying sexual tension in this convention, underscoring and exacerbating the unspoken irony. Her Marie dispatches her lovelorn packet of lais to a seemingly unreachable Queen Eleanor, effectively dedicating the collection to her and pledging her eternal love.

Marie’s longing for Eleanor is the fulcrum on which the story turns. Initially ignored by the queen and committed to making her mark at the abbey (and in the world), she essentially acts like a man. Enlisting support from a team of sisterly advisors, Marie introduces an agenda of renewal, building strong relations with the local villagers (who owe the abbey feudal fealty anyway).

She disrupts the division of labor among the sisters to reinvigorate the corporate health of the abbey, a sea change from its old mission of enforcing the spiritual mortification of its inhabitants. She installs a new, more profitable staple crop. She staffs a scriptorium to compete with male monasteries in copying and illuminating manuscripts, undercutting their pricing significantly. 

And Marie bans men from the abbey and its environs, creating an impenetrable “labyrinth” in the encircling forests. Later, she defends the abbey through guile and misdirection from the village men’s clumsy assault. The nunnery becomes a thriving island of women in a surrounding sea of conventional male privilege.

In matters of sexuality, Groff brilliantly handles flashes of physical intimacy among her sisters — including Marie’s own occasional moments — with a moving and empathetic touch. 

Marie’s 50 years at the abbey sketch out a compelling arc of spiritual growth — a passage from angry ambition to abiding faith, a hagiography of sorts. As its Latinate title hints, Matrix celebrates a maternal journey touchingly parallel to the uplifting spiritual temper of its time: a fresh attention to the feminine via the religious cult of Mary and the conventions of courtly romance. 

Of course, uplifting matters have no place amid the clash of arms in the real, male-dominated world. In that light, the ultimate irony in Groff’s utopian sojourn shines through like a signal flare in the distance, both then and now.
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It's not often that I learn a vocabulary word from the title of a book. The Matrix, in this sense, is the mother from which all things spring. (Think Latin: Mater).
Lauren Groff's excellent novel is the story of Marie, the ungainly bastard half-sibling of the children of Eleanor of Aquitaine. When Marie is 17, Eleanor deems her unmarriageable and sends her off the be the prioress of an impoverished nunnery. The Matrix is a medieval girl-power story that features visions from Mary, various medieval scrouges, and the triumph of women against their time. It was funny and irreverent in places, and unlike any book I had read before. Writing: 5 stars, Characters: 5 stars, Plot: four stars.

Thanks to Netgalley for a copy in return for a fair review.
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I was intrigued by the premised of this novel when I first learned of it, and while I have not read any of Groff's other books, her reputation was another draw. The titular matrix is Marie, illegitimate half-sister to England’s Henry II, abbess of Shaftesbury Abbey, and possibly the same person known as Marie de France, believed to be the first French female poet. Since she lived in the 12th and 13th centuries, little is known of her. We meet Groff’s Marie when she is 17 and still mourning the loss of her mother and reeling from the news that her adored sister-in-law, Eleanor of Aquitaine, is sending her away to a poor nunnery because she doesn’t think anyone will want to marry such an unattractive, enormous woman. Matrix follows Marie’s development from reluctant novice, to hardworking prioress, and eventually abbess, transforming the abbey from a pitiful group of starving sisters to a wealthy, influential group headed by an ambitious woman. Beautiful and spellbinding.
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This is Lauren Groff’s fourth novel – she’s also the author of two short stories collections, but what I’d say she’s most known for is her last novel that came out in 2015, Fates and Furies. That seemed to be the book that really put her on the map, in the literary world, anyway. Her previous books had been well-received, but Fates and Furies was a finalist for the National Book Award and even President Barack Obama called it his favorite book of that year.

She hasn’t released a new novel since Fates and Furies in 2015 – her last book she released was the second of her two short story collections, so this new novel has been highly anticipated, including by me because I loved Fates and Furies. I know that book was and very likely is still divisive, very Marmite, to put it the British way – people seem to love it or hate it. I am underlining that fact at the start of this video, because I’m expecting very similar reactions to this new book, Matrix.

Matrix is being advertised as the story of Marie de France, a poet who is believed to have lived in late 12th century England. Very little is known about her, including her true identity. It does seem to be commonly believed that she was an abbess, one theory supposes that she was related to the royal family, and, based on her work, she was clearly an educated woman and someone of repute. But no one knows 100% who she was. It’s not even crystal clear if Marie was her real name, or if it was a pen name.

But here’s where I need to make another early interjection, and say that, like I frequently have to in my review videos, that this book’s marketing mischaracterizes it. What I can say is that this is indeed a story about a woman named Marie. In the book, she’s the illegitimate half-sister of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. She lives at court after the death of her mother up until she’s 17 years old when it’s decided that she won’t be able to be married off because of her physical appearance, so instead she’s sent to an Abbey in England.

Marie is devastated to be sent away. She’s forced to leave her companion, or even as I would argue, her partner, Cecily, but also in a very complicated way, she is in love with the Queen. She’s not receptive to the idea of becoming a nun, let alone taking on a position of leadership within the abbey – she’s barely even religious when she arrives, so she bucks the system and in a fit of rebellion, she writes these poems, these “lays” as they’re called, that the real Marie of France was well-known for.

But after that early section, there is very little discussion of Marie as a writer, at least in the way you’d expect if this were truly an imagining of the life of the real Marie de France. I would say that instead, this book was inspired by the real writer, but instead focuses on Marie as a prioress and later an abbess at this abbey. The publisher’s copy about this book incorrectly – in my opinion – suggests this is a book about female creativity. I’d argue it’s much, much more a book about female ambition.

More thoughts in my Booktube review!
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What a stunning historical novel!  I absurdly adored the story of Marie, cast out to a nunnery in the 1100's.  With passion, Marie comes to find herself at home in the sacred and the profane. A fictionalized vivid beautiful story to lose time in.
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Finally, a novel about my beloved Marie de France! Marie is one of the most intriguing figures in literature. She is one of the first recorded female authors in Europe and she’s thought to have invented the chivalric romance. So if you like stories about King Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere you can thank Marie. Yet her identity is a mystery. All we know about her is an elusive statement which she makes in the epilogue to one of her works, the Fables: ‘Marie ai nun, si sui de France’ [Marie is my name and I am from France]. Lauren Geoff has beautifully imagined Marie as a Plantagenet bastardess, daughter of a female warrior of the Crusades, who is shipped away to a plague and starvation ridden English convent. Her rise to abbess of the richest and most influential abbey in England is the story. I absolutely loved it.
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“Matrix” by Lauren Groff, Riverhead Books, 272 pages, Sept. 7, 2021.

It is 1158 and Marie de France, 17, is cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life. She is illegitimate and her half-sister plotted against her.

Marie is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey. The nuns are on the brink of starvation and suffering from a strange disease.

At first taken aback by the severity of her new life, Marie finds focus in collective life. 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.

While the characters are strong, the pacing is slow. The second half really dragged. Time advances quickly and all of a sudden the characters are old. Historical fiction fans may like it.

 Lauren Groff’s last novel was “Fates and Furies.” 

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review.
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A novel based on the life of 12th century poet Marie de France, about whom very little is known, and Eleanor of Aquitaine. What works best is the rich, sensual atmosphere and the finely wrought details of medieval life in an abbey. 

The writing is gorgeous, although I felt it was holding me at a distance, skimming too quickly across time, and the mystical aspects lost me a bit. Nevertheless, it was a pleasure to spend time in this world of extraordinary feminine power. Reminiscent of Circe by Madeline Miller and the Red Tent by Anita Diamant.

Thank you to Riverhead for the ARC.
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Lauren Groff's Matrix, based on the life of Marie de France, is an interesting read—in the best sense of "interesting." Little is known about the life of Marie, a 12th Century bastard of the French royal family who—in Groff's telling—isn't pretty or docile enough to be useful on the marriage market and is sent at age 17 to become Prioress of an impoverished abbey. Marie rightly sees this appointment as a sort of banishment, but grows from resenting her new position to embracing the responsibilities (and power) it involves.

I called this book an interesting read because Groff's Marie is such a mixed bag: Groff presents her as a lesbian, a visionary, a tactician extraordinaire, a businesswoman, a charismatic leader, an egoist, a woman whose political vision can blind her to the world in which she lives, and both as a religious doubter and a religious radical, who takes on for herself the role of saying mass and hearing confession for her abbey. She's not an anti-hero, but neither is she the sort of medieval holy woman featured in much fiction based in this era. 

For anyone interested in the history of this time period, the lives of medieval women, and/or 12th Century theology, Matrix is an essential read. Yes, it's fiction, but it's the kind of fiction that allows readers to explore that era in ways beyond those that scholarly research can inspire.

I received a free electronic review copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley; the opinions are my own.
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This is an impressive book - well researched and beautifully written - but not one that I particularly enjoyed reading. With the ratings of "liked", and "really liked", it is a bit challenging to rate. I admired the writing and scope of this novel but did not "really like" it (which is why I would like to reduce it by a half star). Groff effectively creates a vivid medieval abbey setting and characters that seem realistic for that period. Marie is a strong and interesting woman who is central to the novel, yet I didn't feel an emotional connection to her and for me that is an important part in the enjoyment of a book. This novel is likely to receive accolades and positive reviews, but in spite of my four star rating (for quality of writing), it isn't one of my favorites.
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I don’t usually seek out historical fiction, but I really enjoyed Fates and Furies and was curious about Lauren Groff’s new work: Wow! While the two novels could not be more different, Matrix does not disappoint.

Beyond being an early poet (the first woman poet?) a documentarian of traditional Breton lais, and a rumored illegitimate heir to King Henry II of England, little is actually known about Marie de France. Groff’s research seems diligent enough, though, and more importantly, perhaps, she weaves a compelling, believable, and gorgeously epic narrative of medieval monastic life. While Marie’s bloodline does not lead her to inherit a crown or to be married off (besides she is too tall, large, clumsy, ugly), she does inherit her late mother’s fiery crusader spirit and independence, and from Eleanor of Aquitaine (for whom she burns quite fervently) she inherits this convent to manage: financially, logistically, and spiritually at the age of seventeen. Groff’s descriptions of the cloistered community through several decades offer insight into this pretty insular coterie, a coterie which, under Marie’s leadership, begins to flourish and even support the community outside its own doors, much to the objection of the church (and the state).Themes such as the independence of women and a nod to climate change, anchor this twelfth-century novel strongly to the present day.
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This book blew me away.  I have a PhD in medieval English history and was intrigued to see how Lauren Groff treated one of my favorite subjects.  She did not disappoint.  Her research is high but her ability to weave a story out of sparse facts is superb.  Marie came alive as did life in an English medieval abbey.  This book was so hard to put down and I would have kept reading if Marie's life hadn't come to an end.  Highly recommended!
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