“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.”


Just finished Matrix by Lauren Groff. This historical fiction story which has been long listed for The National Book Award is about Marie de France, an illegitimate child of the crown who is brought to Court by then Queen Elinore of Aquitaine. Though very bright, Marie is tall and very unattractive so instead of marrying her off, she is sent to a very poor Abbey where she will be the prioress. She finds the Abbey full of starving and diseased nuns with little or no money or food. She immediately begins to set things straight by collecting back rents owed to the abbey by its tenants. She is big and strong with a reputation as a warrior so once she starts collecting, the tenants comply and begin to pay thr monies owed.

Eventually she begins to get the abbey back on its feet and the rest of the story is a terrific look back at abbey life in the 12th century. Medieval life was brutal and hard and physical and moral strength were a necessity. Marie is a wonder to behold and her relationships with her fellow nuns and the Queen herself tell a fascinating story. Every move she makes to improve the abbey will lead her into problems with her tenants and townspeople, and with the Queen herself because successful abbeys were a windfall for taxes to go to the crown.

Abbeys served the poor, providing them food and shelter and would also provide accommodations to widows who would retire to an abbey to live there for the rest of their days. Sometimes Queens retired to abbeys so their importance in Medieval life was very real and this novel brings these stories to life in this terrific book.
Highly recommended.


Reviewed by:

Richard Franco

Added 11th November 2021

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Richard Franco