book review: Matrix by Lauren Groff

MATRIX by Lauren Groff
2021, Riverhead

I wanted more than anything to have a strong reaction to this book. If I hated it, it would have validated how strongly I disliked Fates and Furies and how staunchly I have been avoiding Groff’s books ever since then; if I loved it, it would have been amusing for that same reason. Regrettably I thought it was just fine.

Matrix is an interesting project. Groff fictionalizes the life of Marie de France, a figure we know very little about, and discards the details we do know in favor of creating her own version of history. Matrix is more of a feminist fantasy of medieval life than it is an effort to accurately recreate historical detail. Groff isn’t interested in humanizing Marie as much as girlbossifying her, assigning conflicts to the narrative only as minor hurdles for Marie to overcome. 

I thought this book’s main strength was in its depiction of the abbey as an institution; underscoring that institutions are run by people and not by divine intervention. The tension between Marie’s relative faithlessness and her competence at leading the abbey from poverty to prosperity is where this relatively meandering novel feels the most focused. 

What this did affirm for me is that I just don’t get on with Groff’s writing on a sentence-by-sentence level; I find her prose very labored and there’s just no momentum for me. This was a bit of a chore to get through, honestly, which is odd to say as it’s such a slim tome. I largely admired what Groff was trying to do with this book, but found the execution lacking more often than not.


9 thoughts on “book review: Matrix by Lauren Groff

  1. Pretty much how I felt about this one, though I gave it four stars just because I loved the convent setting so much. I didn’t think the prose was amazing (it’s much better in her short story collection Florida!) but a bigger obstacle for me was how the story was totally centred on Marie and neglected the wider life of the convent.

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  2. ok but “girlbossifying” is now my new favourite word. (the yassificafion of marie of france, if u will.) i tried to read this last year and couldnt get through more than a couple of chapters bc i was just so bored 😬

    Liked by 1 person


      But yeah honestly that’s a good decision, it remains painfully boring throughout. I’m not mad that I pushed through as I found a couple of thematic elements interesting but ultimately it was just a very forgettable reading experience.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. *Nothing* I’ve seen, positive or negative, made me want to read Fates and Furies… So this isn’t on my radar *at all* but I’m glad you reviewed it just for the girlbossification/yassification or Marie de France


  4. I’m reading this atm and have nearly finished it. I would say I’ve fairly enjoyed it and would probably give it 5/10. This is a period in history I like but for me she stretched my credulity just a little to far. I’m sorry but blacksmith nuns and carpenter nuns?? And Asta the engineer? And then turning the nuns into a war band to fight of the villagers? (Would the villagers really have left it at that after their defeat and several deaths?). And what was the labyrinth all about? And I thought Marie de France was the Abbess of Shaftesbury in Dorset, you won’t get to London and back in a day from there!

    Those points aside it was generally an enjoyable read, the lesbian nun theme was handled well, but it slipped too much into the realms of fantasy for me. This is one that’ll go into the ‘enjoyed but not enough to keep’ section.

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