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Interview: Lauren Groff Brings a Modern Twist to 12th-Century Nuns

'I never want to be the writer who writes the same book over and over again.'
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  • Matrix
  • 'I never want to be the writer who writes the same book over and over again.'

Publisher's Summary

AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

WINNER OF THE 2022 JOYCE CAROL OATES PRIZE

FINALIST FOR THE 2021 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR FICTION

One of Barack Obama's Favorite Books of 2021

Named a Best Book of the Year by The New York Times, The Washington Post, TIME, NPR, The Financial Times, Good Housekeeping, Esquire, Vulture, Marie Claire, Vox, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today and more!

“A relentless exhibition of Groff’s freakish talent. In just over 250 pages, she gives us a character study to rival Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell .” – USA Today

“An electric reimagining . . . feminist, sensual . . . unforgettable.” – O, The Oprah Magazine

“Thrilling and heartbreaking.” –Time Magazine

“[A] page-by-page pleasure as we soar with her.” –New York Times

One of our best American writers, Lauren Groff returns with her exhilarating first new novel since the groundbreaking Fates and Furies.

Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, seventeen-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey, its nuns on the brink of starvation and beset by disease.

At first taken aback by the severity of her new life, Marie finds focus and love in collective life with her singular and mercurial sisters. In this crucible, Marie steadily supplants her desire for family, for her homeland, for the passions of her youth with something new to her: devotion to her sisters, and a conviction in her own divine visions. Marie, born the last in a long line of women warriors and crusaders, is determined to chart a bold new course for the women she now leads and protects. But in a world that is shifting and corroding in frightening ways, one that can never reconcile itself with her existence, will the sheer force of Marie’s vision be bulwark enough?

Equally alive to the sacred and the profane, Matrix gathers currents of violence, sensuality, and religious ecstasy in a mesmerizing portrait of consuming passion, aberrant faith, and a woman that history moves both through and around. Lauren Groff’s new novel, her first since Fates and Furies, is a defiant and timely exploration of the raw power of female creativity in a corrupted world.

©2021 Lauren Groff (P)2021 Listening Library

Critic Reviews

“A radiant novel about the 12th-century poet and mystic Marie de France. . . Groff richly imagines Marie's decades of exile in a royal convent, which she eventually leads. A charged novel about female ambition.” – Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air

“Just when it seems there are nothing but chronicles of decline and ruin comes Lauren Groff’s Matrix, about a self-sufficient abbey of 12th-century nuns—a shining, all-female utopian community…  it is finally its spirit of celebration that gives this novel its many moments of beauty.” Wall Street Journal

“An electric reimagining . . . feminist, sensual . . . unforgettable.” – O, The Oprah Magazine 

What listeners say about Matrix

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Wonderful story well written and narratives

I really loved this book. I have always wondered what the life of a nun was like back in the days when becoming a nun was one of the few options for a woman who didn’t want to , or had no chance of, marrying a man or becoming a prostitute. Especially it always seeme to me it might be a place where a woman with a little education might use such education in the Middle Ages. But I always thought that the politics of living in an all female monastic community, especially if one ended up there not because of great devotion to God but because of a harsh world where there ws no other place for you, would be a challenge in itself. So I think part of me has always wanted a story like this. Marie is unusual enough to be a fascinating feminist figure, but of her time enough for the story to sound real. The details of how the convent runs, the grimness of how diseases and bad crops are ever present threats not to mention the politics of making the institution one serves financially prosperous when more powerful male run branches of the church and royalty can at any time raid that prosperity and the very believable characterization of her sister nuns in all their humanity was just a fascinating story to me. Marie’s increasing religiosity ( of a radically nonconformist type) is also an important story thread.

Groffs writing is definitely part of what makes this book such a pleasure. It’s vivid and poetic in its description of the natural world of the12th century as well as the description of the enormous efforts made to tame nature into a useful form and the wildness that is lost in the process. It’s also wonderful in its description about the undercurrents of emotions and yearnings that would exist leading a life that is lacking in privacy and demanding while also contemplative. The narrator of this audible version did an amazing job with voices and accents which added a lot to the storytelling.
Just loved this audiobook I’m every way

Loved the whole story from beginning to end.

16 people found this helpful

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it didn't land

I was delighted with the story at first, but it became bogged down and felt repetitive after awhile. I loved the description of the life at the nunnery but the characters were not sustaining for me - interesting at first, but as the novel wore on, I lost interest in them. After the third attempt at trying to get through it, I just realized this wasn't for me.

14 people found this helpful

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Groff's done better

Lauren Groff was enamored of medieval French history in college. So she wrote this book. Unlike Arcadia or Fates and Furies, with their spectacular characters and riveting plot twists, this book is more of a portrait of life in a convent and the gradual development of the main character's voice and vocation as a leader. But let's be clear - nothing really happens in this novel. That is to say, many things happen - thugs try to take over the convent, the convent grows, the convent is perceived as a threat, Eleanor of Aquitaine has a love-hate relationship with the Mother Superior, but these events are woven into the thread of the story with no special emphasis or tension. The characters have that icon quality - flat portraits of their roles in the convent, each with one major personality anchor type - they could be the golden faces painted on a medieval triptych. Of course, like so many of this crop of recent MFA graduates, the writing is beautiful, pristine, imagelike. But this book is really more of a flat, static painting, not a story with an arc or deep, nuanced character development.

I also found the narrator both grandiose and monotone - no light and shade in her narration. Kind of like the book.

9 people found this helpful

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Well written, but I struggled

I love this period and setting, and the story of Marie was interesting, but I had a hard time slogging thru the story line. Meh, I’d pass if I were you.

9 people found this helpful

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Annoying narration

I realize that the variety of voices and accents is supposed to add color to the narration, but I cannot bear it.

9 people found this helpful

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Captivating and Poetic

I loved this novel about an extraordinary woman carving out a space for herself in the 12th Century.

Adjoa Andoh reads beautifully, giving unique voices and inflections to the characters, which helped me follow the action more easily than I would have just reading the text, which often transitions seamlessly from internal narration to dialogue without any indication, such as quotation marks. On the other hand, there are so many poetic and clever and thought-provoking passages that I liked having the text nearby so I could sit with some of the lines: "She feels as though she has stepped from a blazing day into a dark room. She sees nothing around her but ghost fragments of the brightness of what she has lost."

I will think about these characters, and especially protagonist Marie for a long time, and look forward to listening to this audiobook again and again.

8 people found this helpful

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Wlld & Enchanting

I loved Lauren Groff's "Fatea and Furies," so it took a minute to recognize the writer I thought I knew in this more fantastical and visionary tale. Be prepared for something extraordinary. Groff is a writer unbound.
I am looking forward to reading the print version, and relishing Matrix all over again.
Oh, and the narrator is perfect in this audible version.

3 people found this helpful

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Not for me

It’s very rare that I could tell that Groff is a tremendous writer and yet this book never hooked me into the story. Not for me. I would only recommend if you’re into stories of medieval mystics. If you’re normally not into that sort of thing, wouldn’t read. I read for a book club, and I wasn’t looking forward to it but gave it a real chance. Sadly I never could get into it, though I am positive that others will and they Groff is a great writer. Not for everyone but whom it is for will undoubtedly love it.

2 people found this helpful

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Unbearably Narrated

I wanted to like this book, having loved Groff’s “Fates and Furies.” But it was so grim, and oddly paced, with Marie being downtrodden and then rising up, and then being downtrodden again and rising up, until the grim ending. I confess, I stopped listening when she encountered Empress Matilda and the narrator descended into her imitation of a basso Wicked Witch of the West that was so irritating, I had to push “stop” and save myself. I skimmed the rest of book and found it unbearably desolate. And I just need to say, one more time, that I really am tired of narrators who feel they have to “act out” a book rather than simply read it well.

2 people found this helpful

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No story at all -- just poetic language.

It wasn't enough for me. I was bored, bored, bored. Flat story.

I persisted and found the narrator to be quite wonderful, but quickly grew weary of the repetitive material.

2 people found this helpful