Review by


The Original Girl Power

At seventeen, Marie is kicked out of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine’s court in France and exiled to a godforsaken abbey in the English countryside. Deemed too ugly to marry, Marie, an orphaned ‘bastard’ with royal blood, is stowed away for life. There’s far more to Marie than meets the eye, however, and soon enough, she has turned the poverty-stricken abbey into a powerhouse. The question is: how does Eleanor feel about that?  And, anyway, are women really meant to achieve this much? If a story about nuns in a 12th century abbey sounds dull to you, think again; Matrix by Lauren Groff is an absolutely riveting read.

From the first page, we’re transported to the darkest Middle Ages. We can feel the damp cold, the smell of unwashed bodies and unbrushed teeth, the misty, muddy English countryside.  Life in the Middle Ages left much to be desired…

It’s time for Marie’s bath, she says gently. Marie says thank you but that she needs no bath, that she bathed in November, and the abbess laughs and says that cleaning the body is also a form of prayer and at the abbey all the nuns bathe every month…

As did abbey life…

Eight hours of prayers: Matins in the deep night, Lauds at dawn, followed by Prime, Terce, Sext, chapter, None, Vespers, collation, Compline, bed.

‘Three heads taller than any woman should be, crown brushing beams, bony as a heron’; what Marie lacks in beauty, she more than makes up for in intelligence, shrewdness and enterprise. Back at court, living the life is Cecily, Marie’s ex-lover, and Eleanor, for whom Marie harbours a deep, unrequited love. Vying for Eleanor’s approval becomes the engine of her ambition in turning around the fortunes of the abbey.

Matrix, based loosely on Marie de France, a poet-nun known to have been connected to Eleanor, is a gripping story about female power and ambition at a time women were supposed to have no power nor ambition. Topping it off is Groff’s meticulous research into medieval abbey life (she even lived in an abbey for a while); the sisterhood, the language, the atmosphere, the repressed and not-so-repressed sexual desires.

Reading Matrix is like being there. Outstanding!

Matrix by Lauren Groff is published by Hutchinson Heinemann, 260 pages.

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