Groff is a heavily allusive writer whose narratives typically carry a freight of sophisticated references. In her new novel, Matrix, the work of Marie de France...provides Groff a literary springboard into a past whose features offer a mirror to our own time ... Perhaps the greatest pleasure of this novel is also its most subtle. Groff is a gifted writer capable of deft pyrotechnics and well up to the challenges she sets herself ... One senses she doesn’t so much struggle to create her vision but is borne aloft on it, which is the page-by-page pleasure as we soar with her.
... an inspiring novel that truly demonstrates the power women wield, regardless of the era. It has sisterhood, love, war, sex — and many graphic deaths, all entangled in a once-forgotten abbey in the English countryside ... With masterful wordplay and pacing, Groff builds what could have been a mundane storyline into something quite impossible to put down. The writing itself is a demonstration of power. Eschewing direct dialogue and traditional chapters for a three-part structure, the story starts slow but then picks up the pace, barreling through Marie's years at the convent ... The novel's prose is well constructed and filled with strong imagery that will remain embedded in your subconscious days later ... Her use of short but not entirely quick sentences, particularly at the start of the novel, is a tricky way of pacing a story that is written in such a formal tone ... Her allusions to female pleasure — such as masturbation and oral sex — are done as stealthily as her allusions to heinous actions such as rape, almost like a whisper that you might miss if you're not paying attention. But there are instances where allusions are not enough, and she is graphic, leaving little to the imagination when discussing death and sickness ... exposes the complexity of being a woman living in a world where men make all the rules, regardless of the era. But it also may leave you wondering whether this is a story about one woman's feminist aspirations — or her overzealous ambition.
Skirting the pitfalls of revisionist history, it is fiction neither as plodding realism nor as implausible feminist anachronism, but rather something in between and beyond: a rigorous, living vision of what could have been ... Groff beautifully captures Marie’s teenaged sulk ... Marie is not caught up in the exhaustive details of ordinary life in the 12th century, sparing the reader the encyclopedic data that can bog down historical novels ... As issues of bodily autonomy are once again thrust into the spotlight by developments in Texas abetted by the U.S. Supreme Court, reading Matrix is a balm. The insistence that a woman’s worth is tied to her physical self, rather than her intellect and spirit, is a dark cloud that has broken open numerous times in the West. If only it could be banished by an abbess, or a novel.
Now that we’ve endured almost two years of quarantine and social distancing, [Groff's] new novel about a 12th-century nunnery feels downright timely ... We need a trusted guide, someone who can dramatize this remote period while making it somehow relevant to our own lives. Groff is that guide largely because she knows what to leave out. Indeed, it’s breathtaking how little ink she spills on filling in historical context ... Though Matrix is radically different from Groff’s masterpiece, Fates and Furies, it is, once again, the story of a woman redefining both the possibilities of her life and the bounds of her realm ... Although there are no clunky contemporary allusions in Matrix, it seems clear that Groff is using this ancient story as a way of reflecting on how women might survive and thrive in a culture increasingly violent and irrational.
... feels both current and timely ... looks back in time to comment astutely on the world as we now know it, exploring big ideas about faith, gender, community and individualism ... Groff brings a bold originality to Matrix and a compassion for her characters, no matter how prickly some of them may be. This is a heartening story of one woman’s vision and creativity, unthwarted and flourishing, despite all odds.
Groff’s book cleverly extends beyond the written past to imagine other possibilities and to challenge the traditional record ... Groff takes seriously the history with which she engages along with the process of how that history was made—and by whom ... wickedly fun 'slashing' is exactly what Groff is doing, adding women into the story, queering the text, and capturing a fuller range of human experience through such amendments ... Groff’s worldbuilding offers a sweeping backdrop of crusades, plagues, religious visions, and social stratification to inform this tale of women’s resistance, desire, and power ... Marie’s vexed relationship with Eleanor, the Queen of England, becomes a major structural parallel. These two seemingly different women both gain power and yet are still contained by patriarchal authority—one in a convent, the other at times in a prison—adding further literary panache to this entertaining tale ... By utilizing the margins of history to depict the disempowered and forgotten, she writes a creative, intelligent work that will last.
Where does power come from? Can anyone harness it? And how can women best use it in a male-dominated world? Groff's new novel Matrix offers a mesmerizing glimpse into some of her conclusions. A bold, thrilling work that highlights the wild, wide range of Groff's imagination ... Through her rise as a formidable force for change, Marie charts a course that subverts gender rules, examines the limits of responsibility and redefines what it means to love and make a mark on the world ... Groff revels in these questions of faith and feminism, filling the novel with rich detail and unforgettable women. As climate change rattles our world, she can't resist a warning: Entropy, in fiction and in life, is the inevitable tragic endgame.
Her new novel, Matrix, takes us to another world entirely, but one Groff paints just as confidently, and surprisingly [as her last book] ... Groff gives her fictional Marie a rich and intriguing story ... Matrix shines throughout with Groff’s lush and vivid prose and her dark sense of humor. She writes tender love scenes, striking mystical visions and even a rousing battle scene ... an unforgettable vision.
... a highly distinctive novel of great vigour and boldness. From mystical visions that may or may not be divine, to the earthy business of abbey pigs, diseases and account books, Groff does it all with purpose and panache ... we are carried on the force of her style, and held by the strength of an intelligence that lets comedy and emotional complexity work together ... this is not historical fiction as an escape route from the present. It is an assertively modern novel about leadership, ambition and enterprise, and about the communal life of individuals ... Groff refuses easy feminist wins ... There is blessedly little lecturing and moralising in Matrix ... Those who love Marie describe 'a grandeur of spirit so vast that it takes one’s breath away'. There’s a grand spirit, too, in this novel that makes her.
This is really a novel of sisterhood, of women finding clever routes to claiming their power, given all the roadblocks men have historically thrown up before them. Groff’s prose is sometimes elegant and sometimes willfully serpentine, curving around in overly complicated loops...But Groff’s book achieves liftoff here and there, especially in the way she sketches the personalities of Marie’s fellow nuns.
Death, disaster and abuses of power are as frequent as Marie’s triumphs, and all are depicted with a degree of detail and specificity that make this historical fantasy feel far more real than the rickety allegorizing of Ms. Groff’s highly praised earlier novels ... For all its moral ambiguities, though, it is finally its spirit of celebration that gives this novel its many moments of beauty.
Matrix is no history textbook. Wreathed in dreamy prose, the action is focused on the absorbing movements of the abbey and on Marie's own visions, which have prescience far beyond their time. Yes, there's a day-to-day tranquility to the novel, but it's woven alongside fierce, primal feminism and a sly, budding blasphemy that produces a starkly modern sub-religion focused on the women and their physicality ... History swallows up her brief time in power, but Marie's accomplishments feel anything but trivial. At its heart, the book's message is simple: joy can exist in darkness. Greatness can bloom in small places ... Give this book to anyone who loves off-the-beaten-path historical fiction and ambitious, unapologetic women protagonists.
The strength of Matrix lies in its voice and perspective. Groff builds a world where the men are periphery, yet the patriarchal structures and subservience to men’s wills rooted in the women who drive this novel are still palpable. It is a fine line to walk for any woman who dares to go against the grain, and Groff walks that line beautifully through Marie. Pick up this book at the first chance you get! It is sure to be one everyone will be talking about.
Splendid with rich description and period vocabulary, this courageous and spine-tingling novel shows an incredible range for Groff, and will envelop readers fully in Marie’s world, interior and exterior, all senses lit up. It is both a complete departure and an easy-to-envision tale of faith, power, and temptation.
Set in early medieval Europe, this book paints a rousing portrait of an abbess seizing and holding power ... The novel is at its best through Marie's early years of transforming the ruined, muddy convent, bit by bit, into a thriving estate, with a prosperous new scriptorium, brimming fields, and spilling flocks, protected by a forest labyrinth and spies abroad ... Marie has visions of the Virgin Mary, 19 in all, but these passages stay flat. Medieval mystics, unsurprisingly, write better about mysticism ... Groff’s trademarkworthy sentences bring vivid buoyancy to a magisterial story.
Groff fashions a boldly original narrative based on the life and legend of 12th-century poet Marie de France ... Groff fills the novel with friendships among the nuns, inspirational apparitions, and writings empowered by divine inspiration. Transcendent prose and vividly described settings bring to life historic events, from the Crusades to the papal interdict of 1208. Groff has outdone herself with an accomplishment as radiant as Marie’s visions.