Book Review

Review: Matrix by Lauren Groff

Somehow, I’ve ended up reading two feminist historical fiction books based in a Medieval nunnery in the last few months. Is this a thing now?

Title: Matrix
Author: Lauren Groff
Pages: 260
Publisher: Heinemann Hutchinson, Random House
Publication Date: 23rd September 2021
Ownership: eARC

Rating: 4 stars

There’s a strange mix of human interaction, spiritual epiphany and not much happening in this short novel that feels a lot longer than it is – not that it’s a huge slot getting through it, but more that there is somehow a lot of depth covered in a relatively small number of pages.

Marie, related to the Queen of Angleterre, Eleanor of Aquitaine, by rape is large, ungainly and unwomanly. She is raised by her mother and fierce aunts, taken on crusades and, when her mother dies, runs the estate alone. Discovered, she is sent on to the royal court, where she is dismissed to an out-of-the-way, run-down and starving abbey, effectively to die.

But Marie possesses far greater power than is expected – she is a shrewd businesswoman, formidable presence and a visionary in expanding her abbey and protecting her woman.

Interwoven with this is something a little more sapphic and sexual – a community of women living together and depending on each other for care and much more. And Marie’s relationship with Eleanor is something more than unrequited love – it is a complex combination of hero-worship and hatred.

Despite being a religious sceptic to some extent, Marie appears to find her own faith that is influenced by her enclave of women, and her religious surroundings. However it remains unclear how much of her work was divine inspiration, and how much was justification for ‘unwomanly’ endeavours.

I understand from reading other reviews that, if you are already aware of Marie de France and literary works, that you may be disappointed by this novel. However, it is still historical fiction in the best sense – powerfully imagined but embedded in its period.

I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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