In Lauren Groff’s Matrix, Marie, living in the Middle Ages, has found herself in quite the pickle.
Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine has cast her out of the Royal Court and declared that she must henceforth be a nun. The Nunnery is not appealing; the nuns there are dying of starvation or disease. So Marie, hearing this news, decides she does not want to go.
But she’s powerless and must go. In that era, the choice for young ladies of at least modest means was to either marry or become a nun.
“Anyone with eyes could see she had always been meant for holy virginity.”Lauren Groff, Matrix
Marie’s parents are dead. She’s no beauty. A bit too coarse. Unusually tall. Married courtly life simply isn’t in the cards for her. So to the abbey, it is. No arguments, no exceptions. At least it’s a somewhat prestigious placement, as its prioress.
Conscripting one’s life to nunning is often referred to as “living death” several times in the book. Marie takes to the life, though, and improves the nuns’ lives.
Marie’s conflicted feelings roil within her steely exterior as the years pass. Even after being rejected, she longs for the courtly life she loves. And then there are the longings for other women as she tries to deny her sexuality.
Here’s the thing.
Matrix doesn’t grab me. It’s an interesting story in concept, but it flies through time so fast and only glosses over the major developmental milestones in Marie’s process of becoming stronger.
My major criticism of Circe by Madeline Miller was similar. The book rushes through time and only bumps against events rather than delving in, so there’s no meat to chew. No real story to hold onto. It’s like a medley of all the greatest hits without getting to listen to and appreciate the actual full songs first.
Yes, I’m mixing my metaphors with reckless abandon here.
Matrix is VERY different from Groff’s book, Fates and Furies. Even with a different setting, situation, and time, I was still expecting a similar intimacy with the characters. I just didn’t feel it here.
There’s a great story in here. But it’s missed in the mad rush through time and a rotating cast of ancillary characters who don’t add to the plot.
If Matrix had focused only on Marie’s first few years at the abbey and her transformation from scared girl to powerful woman, it would have been a much more impactful novel.
What Matrix did do was get me interested in history. I’m mad to learn more about Eleanor of Aquitaine and the life of nuns in that period.
Watch my review of Circe.
Read my full review of Homegoing.
See my full review of How to Stop Time.
Read my full review of Fates and Furies.