By Lauren Groff,

Book cover of Matrix

Book description


'Gorgeous, sensual, addictive' SARA COLLINS
'Brightly lit' NAOMI ALDERMAN

Born from a long line of female warriors and crusaders, yet too coarse for courtly life, Marie de France is cast from the royal…

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Why read it?

6 authors picked Matrix as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

I never imagined I would be so invested in the lives of 12th-century nuns, but here we are.

Groff’s writing has such energy, I was completely consumed by the story of Marie, who, guided by visions, transforms an English convent into a utopia for the nuns within, protected from the world without. I was blown away by the sheer amount of knowledge that adds texture to the book: knowledge of plants, animals, medicinal herbs, clothing.

It feels deeply researched but not tedious. Everything about this novel feels propulsive.

Groff paints a picture of medieval France so stunning that it makes you care about a character so intensely it’s almost as if you were having sex.

The extent of the paradox of being in love with a cloistered (literally) lesbian abbess who “lived” eight hundred years ago is matched only by the bloodlust of rooting for her to murder and outlive her enemies.

I don’t often read historical fiction, but Matrix had a sensibility that resonated strongly with my own modern confidence and spirit and yet also felt accurate, in so many ways, for that woman in that twelfth-century nunnery.

The plot was deeply satisfying. We marched along with this young nun on her surprisingly quick path to achievement and success. If the victories were not easily won, I still had a constant sense of winning. That was exhilarating!

And then the ending took a turn that I found both profound and radical—something that connected strongly to environmental issues today and the world…

The Road from Belhaven

By Margot Livesey,

Book cover of The Road from Belhaven

Margot Livesey Author Of The Road from Belhaven

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Why am I passionate about this?

Author Reader Secret orphan Professor Scottish Novelist

Margot's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

The Road from Belhaven is set in 1880s Scotland. Growing up in the care of her grandparents on Belhaven Farm, Lizzie Craig discovers as a small girl that she can see the future. But she soon realises that she must keep her gift a secret. While she can sometimes glimpse the future, she can never change it.

Nor can Lizzie change the feelings that come when a young man named Louis, visiting Belhaven for the harvest, begins to court her. Why have the adults around her never told her that the touch of a hand can change everything? When she follows Louis to Glasgow, she begins to learn the limits of his devotion and the complexities of her own affections.

The Road from Belhaven

By Margot Livesey,

What is this book about?

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy, a novel about a young woman whose gift of second sight complicates her coming of age in late-nineteenth-century Scotland

Growing up in the care of her grandparents on Belhaven Farm, Lizzie Craig discovers as a small child that she can see into the future. But her gift is selective—she doesn’t, for instance, see that she has an older sister who will come to join the family. As her “pictures” foretell various incidents and accidents, she begins to realize a painful truth: she may glimpse the future, but…

Lauren Groff is one of the world’s greatest novelists, and Matrix – published two years ago – is further proof of it. I’m always a book behind the times (she published The Vaster Wilds this year, which is probably a masterpiece too).

Matrix imagines a life of Marie de France, sent away from the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine to become prioress of an impoverished, minor abbey, which Marie turns into a mystical religio-feminist utopia. Every word is masterful, every sentence a work of art, and the novel left me feeling alive, scared, and sad. It’s immersive and transcendent.

A young woman unloved, exiled from court, given a thankless job running an impoverished abbey, and she can succeed only by breaking rules. What’s not to like?

Even better, the rules she breaks give her and the nuns she supervises freedom to thrive.

Groff dramatizes the struggle over the use of power, the difference between human goodness and a leader’s greatness, how civilizations rise and fall, a woman’s place in making history—and I can feel it all, not just see it.

The sheer breadth and depth of this deceptively simple story knock me over, to say nothing of the prose,…

Matrix pulled me in immediately. I loved the realness of the setting: the mud and the cold and the food and the smells. Life in the middle ages wasn’t easy, and Groff’s novel doesn’t try to romanticize that. I also loved the protagonist, a woman who gradually builds a position of power for herself. Groff explores sexuality and desire, community and meaning, religion and power on a scale that is both personal and profound.

From Alex's list on reimagine the Middle Ages.

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