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Matrix

von Lauren Groff

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Thanks to Penguin Random House for the free ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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. ( )
  jillrhudy | Jun 22, 2021 |
I applaud and recommend Lauren Groff’s new book, Matrix, for many things: Groff’s fine writing, an incredibly interesting and well-drawn female protagonist, and a well-researched historical look at women’s lives in an English abbey. With that said, the story of Marie de France did not really work for me. Cast out of the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine for being a bastard and too ugly, Marie finds herself at the poor and struggling abbey. She takes over and manages to turn their fortunes around over many years. For me, the book plodded along with no real plot and too many random side characters, and obscure religious details — much like life in the abbey. Maybe Groff did this on purpose, and I’m sure some readers will enjoy it. I was not one of them. ( )
  Hccpsk | Jun 11, 2021 |
This novel, imagining the life of Marie de France, was pure fun—especially after having read The Corner That Held Them—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. ( )
  lisapeet | Apr 7, 2021 |
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