Lauren Groff is the New York Times Bestselling author of Florida, Fates and Furies, and two other novels. In 2017, she was named one of Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists. Matrix, Groff’s latest work, follows the indomitable Marie de France, the earliest French woman poet. As the novel begins, seventeen-year-old Marie is cast out from the royal court, after being deemed unmarriageable. Queen Eleanor sends Marie to England, where Marie is to become the prioress of an impoverished abbey that is plagued by disease. Upon arriving at the abbey, Marie cannot help but fantasise about returning to France. However, she soon realises that she can transform the abbey into a feminist utopia.
Matrix is a remarkably ambitious novel that is historically exacting in detail. It is obvious that Groff thoroughly researched the twelfth-century as she makes the era come alive on the page. The descriptions of the abbey and the details surrounding twelfth-century life are vivid and sensual, creating an immersive reading experience. In addition, Marie’s character is truly admirable. Marie does not conform with twelfth-century gender ideals. She is not feminine in appearance or character – she is fierce, smart, and brave. Groff also plays with the idea of Marie’s queerness to further highlight her status as an outcast. Although Matrix is about twelfth-century nuns, this notion of gender conformity makes the novel highly relevant to today’s society.
But, as likeable as Marie is, it can be difficult to connect with her and the other nuns. This lies in the fact that Groff’s prose holds the characters at a distance. Perhaps this was a strategic move, as Groff’s writing technique allows her to span a long period of time. Nonetheless, the writing style means there is a lack of emotional connection between the reader and the characters.
Overall, Matrix is a powerful novel, perfect for fans of Madeleine Miller’s Circe and Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls.
Matrix will be available to purchase from 23 September.