📖 Matrix

This a review of the book Matrix by Lauren Groff (link).

It's been hard to find time to read in 2024, namely because I'm planning a wedding (blaming something on wedding planning - that's Wilson Bingo 2024).

When I find myself in reading slumps, small books, especially small literary books can really help. I first realised this some seven years ago with Robert Seethaler's The Tobacconist (link).

Matrix was one of these books to me, recommended in Blackwells, Oxford, by one of those handwritten bookseller notes that described it as a literary, queer, historical fiction. Plus, written by a woman. It was like catnip and reading bingo.

To be quick: I really enjoyed Matrix. The writing style with its blend of sparse punctuation, and slipping grip on the passage of time, was effectively without being unwelcoming or wilfully opaque to me, a mere mortal.

Similarly, it wasn't all vibes no plot which can be an indulgent trap for things to fall into.

The book follows Marie, based on the real but foggy historical figure of Marie de France , a twelfth-century religious woman. It tells her story as a woman leaving court, who takes up leadership of a nunnery/monastery.

The book follows her friendships and relationships in the close-quarters, medieval quarters for an enclosed space. It follows a powerful and knowledgeable woman at a time when women were not tolerated as powerful or knowledgeable. I don't know enough history to answer this, but I wonder how much of what we are shown is modern sensibilities spread onto ancient events.

From what little history I have read, especially history surrounding women, it's pretty common. What's less common is that Marie's suffering, efforts, and skills are put at the forefront. They are not dismissed (or invented) as masculine.

The gentleness and discomfort of ever-present relationships (where else are nuns to go, except the ground of their abbey?) bleed through this book. Marie's relationship to others, and her largely unacknowledged queerness, come through frequently enough that you understand they are important, but they do not paint everything.

This isn't a book about being queer, it's a book about being Marie. It gave me the context and want to empathise with her, and Groff pulls it of so skilfully.

What's more - it's a short book, and it covers some sixty years of Marie's life.

I am glad I read this book.

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