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?
Jody says: I love how Marie’s character is so complex, deep, and alive in the pages of the book that I felt such a wide range of emotions towards her at different points—pride, disappointment, awe, fear, and downright frustration. As the novel pressed on, it kept me wondering how she would react to each new situation presented and each new personality that joined the abbey.
Dan says: Marie de France has had an unfortunate childhood, a bastardess formed of rape, she pretended to be her mother long after her mother died so that she would not be stripped of the family’s estate. Her appearance, described as large and unwomanly, was of no benefit to the royal court seeking to consolidate power through advantageous marriages. Marie tried, at first, to get back on the Queen’s good graces, but after her efforts were met with indifference, she resolved to make the best life forced on her.
Women and Power
Jody says: We are opened to women who are heralded for traits beyond just beauty (which is very rarely used to describe any of the characters in the story). There is strength and sensitivity, sensuality and devotion, stubbornness and tenderness—all shades and shapes of women are shown against Marie’s own fierce and ambitious character. We see how these women interact with each other and form bonds deeper than friendship, with bonds bleeding into hatred and desire as well.
Dan says: It’s a captivating read as Marie continues to succeed and get her visions done despite the many challenges and setbacks. She was not just ahead of her time, she was a visionary who accumulated power with the help of the nuns around her. You cannot help but applaud.
Jody says: Marie spent her time in and the many faces of the women she meets there. If you enjoy a book that is unguarded and unfettered in its telling and deeply rooted in history and real questions that ring true today, then allow yourself to be captivated by Matrix.
Dan says: Similar to her previous award-winning work, Fates and Furies, Groff has masterfully created a precise and brilliant world. Whereas Fates and Furies was about the internal world of a married couple and their dissonant voices, Matrix is about the world inside a monastic abbey. You might think there’s nothing interesting about a story set entirely in an abbey, but you’d be wrong. The book possesses a sublime hook that pulls you into their world that is sometimes tragic and other times comic.