Groff’s new novel ‘Matrix’ inspired by Marie de France

By CHAD G. WELCH • Special for

Award-winning author Lauren Groff’s sixth novel, “The Matrix,” was released this month to rave reviews, including four stars from USA Today and a National Book Award nomination from the National Book Foundation.


USA Today reviewer Steph Cha called the book “a relentless exposition of Groff’s bizarre talent”, and New York Times reviewer Kathryn Harrison wrote, “it provides Groff with a literary springboard to a past whose characteristics offer a mirror to our own time”.

“Matrix” is a historical fiction novel based on Marie de France, the first French poet known for her collection of 12 narrative poems titled “Les Lais de Marie de France” written in the 12th century.

As the back cover explains, “Mary, born the latest in a long line of warrior and crossover women, is determined to chart a bold new path for the women she now leads and protects. But in a world that is shifts and corrodes in frightening ways, which can never come to terms with its existence, will the sheer force of Mary’s vision be a sufficient bulwark?”

“‘Matrix’ is also a meditation on power and how we internalize attitudes to power, even as we also try to reverse it,” Groff said. “The great scholar Judith Butler said that ‘power does not just act on a subject but, in a transitive sense, stages the subject’, and the way my Mary undermined the hegemonic power structures of the time , but also reproduces them, was something I wanted to explore.

While the main story is about a devoted nun leading her sisters to a forgotten abbey in the English countryside in the Middle Ages, “Matrix” includes acts of love, lust and sex, war and violent death and intentionally incorporates some mainstream issues like feminism and climate change, Groff said.

“I think people often misinterpret historical fiction as pure escapism, but, in my opinion, really interesting historical fiction speaks to the past and the present at the same time,” Groff said. “I started this book at a time when I found the contemporary world simply overwhelming, simply impossible to fully understand, or even understand enough to do it justice in fiction. I felt morally fragile even trying.

“But I could talk about pressing issues by placing a book in the past. I could, as Emily Dickinson says, “say it sideways.” One of the motivations for writing this, and another historical fiction I’m working on at the moment, is that I wanted to find a way to trace, through a millennium, the roots of how we got here, in the world. dawn of climate apocalypse, which I tried to explore in ‘Matrix,'” she said.

Groff said the source for his latest novel was “triparate”. After graduating from Cooperstown Central School in 1996, Groff attended Amherst College where she said she studied Old French.

“I fell in love with (Marie’s) lays, which are brilliant, fantastical stories in poetic form. I wanted to do a lay translation, but never really had time to do a final lap,” she said. “The second part was the day before the idea that came to me, when I was on a plane and saw the extraordinary 1940s film, ‘The Women’, which only has characters feminine but, unfortunately, every conversation revolves around a man – a missed opportunity!

“And the third and final part was when I went to a conference when I was a fellow at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies and saw my friend, Dr. Katie Bugyis, give a talk on liturgical practices of medieval nuns, and I was so amazed and overjoyed that, as I sat there, the novel I wanted to write fell upon me.

As little biographical information has been written about the real Marie de France, Groff said she constructed her protagonist character from her own works.

“There are so few real facts about Marie of France known to historians,” Groff said. “They think she was perhaps a Frenchwoman in an English abbey, or perhaps the illegitimate child of a nobleman, or even, perhaps one of the daughters of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Nothing verifiable, unfortunately.

“So I only had to work with the texts that Marie de France left behind, her lais and her fables,” she said. “I tapped into both the most vivid images and ideas and constructed a sort of flash fiction from those details, resulting in my imaginary biography of a very real woman.”

Groff’s first novel, “The Monsters of Templeton”, was based on Cooperstown and was a New York Times bestseller and Editor’s Choice. She followed that with “Delicate Edible Birds”, a collection of nine stories.

Her third novel, “Arcadia,” was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and her fourth book, “Fates and Furies,” was chosen by President Barack Obama as his favorite book of 2015. It was also the Amazon book. Year.

In 2018 Groff published “Florida”, a collection of 11 stories that had originally been published elsewhere, including “The Best American Short Stories 2007”, edited by author Stephen King, and “The Best American Short Stories 2010”, edited by Pulitzer winning writer Richard Russo.

Groff said his upcoming works, while on different subjects and set in different places at different times, will have “overarching obsessions that tie them together.” They won’t be sequels, “I think they’ll just be weird sisters,” she said.

“I really hope that any reader of my work will come away with great joy in the language of the books, with tricky and interesting questions to ponder, with the pleasure that comes from reading an interesting story,” Groff said. “And, of course, because I grew up in small, beautiful Cooperstown, I think they would recognize my urge to write about tight-knit, thoughtful, sometimes claustrophobic utopias!”

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