This novel is the story of Marie de France. But although the historical Marie de France is known as a bit of a rebel and medieval poet, very little documentation exists about the details of her life. Clearly not a problem for this author. Because in MATRIX, Groff’s beautiful prose fully fleshes out the internal life of this famous 12th century nun. So much so that I now feel like I’ve met the woman. That’s because the entire book, with the exception of the very end, takes place exclusively within Marie’s mind — as she weighs her choices, struggles with acceptance, doubts herself, and then, ultimately, comes to terms with her life. It’s all VERY human.
Marie’s beginnings are not auspicious. She is a child who results from a royal rape. She is exceptionally tall and widely considered too unattractive for marriage. So, at 17, she is banished by English Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine to the harsh life of a small, remote, and impoverished abbey. Though, because she has royal blood, Marie is sent to be its abbess.
Marie is completely fascinating. Having never prepared for a religious life and lacking a true vocation, she nevertheless brings fierce ambition and a savviness that eventually earns her respect and transforms the tiny abbey into a large, progressive, and flourishing sanctuary.
But what I found MOST interesting is how the book can also be viewed as a fable — illustrating how any of us can make the most of the life we are given, instead of continually wishing for things to be different.
I strongly recommend this gem of historical fiction (also a bestseller) and will go on to read more books by Lauren Groff.
More about Lauren Groff.