Monday, September 13, 2021

Matrix, by Lauren Groff: Nuns Having Fun

Lauren Groff is nothing if not unpredictable. And brave. As I was reading her new novel, Matrix, a tale of 12th century nuns, I was trying to imagine the conversation she must've had with her publisher. 

LG: "So, it's about a nun..."

P: "Cool, cool. A superhero nun?"

LG: "Well, no. Her superpower is being a strong woman."

P: ", okay that could work."

LG: "Also, she lived in the 12th century."

P: ", well, we'll let marketing handle selling that."

I kid, I kid. Lauren Groff is talented enough to write about anything she damn well pleases. And I'll happily read any and every word she writes (literally...Groff is one of only a handful of writers for whom I've read everything she's published). And even though it took a minute to find my way into this one, once I did, I was thoroughly impressed, thoroughly entertained, and sufficiently wowed. Like the protagonist of this story, Groff herself is a wunderkind.

So Matrix is the story of Marie de France, a poet and abbess who lived in the 12th century. We know very little about Marie's real life, except what little of her poetry survives. And so here Groff has imagined her life. 

In Groff's telling, Marie is a fierce, powerful, inspired woman who turns her dire circumstances of being remanded to the abbey by the queen into becoming one of the most powerful women in England. This is a novel about the spark of creativity, about the limits of faith, about the power of passion, and about what constitutes inspiration.

As you'd expect, this is pretty different than Groff's last novel — Fates and Furies, a tale about a marriage coming unraveled, which I REALLY loved. I've seen several reviewers try to draw parallels between these two books — "Marie de France's relationship with God becomes unraveled like a bad marriage," etc. It doesn't really work. My advice is to not try to compare this to Groff's other work. This one's fine on its own. Again, it's a brave novel — one definitely worth taking a shot on! 

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