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


By CHAD G. WELCH • Special for

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


USA Today critic Steph Cha called the book a “relentless display of Groff’s frightening talent”, and New York Times critic Kathryn Harrison wrote “it provides Groff with a literary springboard into 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 entitled “Les Lais de Marie de France” written in the 12th century.

As the back cover explains, “Mary, the latest in a long line of warrior and crusader women, is determined to chart a bold new course for the women she now leads and protects. But in a world that is terrifyingly changing and corroding, which can never come to terms with its existence, will the sheer strength of Mary’s vision be a sufficient bulwark? “

“Matrix is ​​also a meditation on power and how we internalize attitudes towards power even though we are also trying to subvert it,” Groff said. “The great scholar Judith Butler said that ‘power not only acts on a subject but, in a transitive sense, makes the subject come true,’ and the ways in which my Mary undermines the hegemonic power structures of the time, but also reproduced them, was something I wanted to explore.

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

“I think people often misinterpret historical fiction as pure escape, but in my opinion, really interesting historical fiction is about 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 looking at a book in the past. I could, as Emily Dickinson puts it, “say it looks good.” One of the motivations for writing this, and another historical fiction I’m working on right now, is that I wanted to find a way to trace, through a millennium, the roots of how we got here, to the ‘dawn of the climate apocalypse, which I tried to explore in’ The 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) lais, which are brilliant and fantastic stories in poetic form. I wanted to do a translation of the lais, but I never really managed to do a final round, ”she said. “The second installment was the day before the idea occurred to me, when I was on a plane and saw the extraordinary 1940s film,” The Women, “which only has female characters. but, unfortunately, every conversation revolves around a man – a missed opportunity!

“And the third and final part was when I attended a conference while I was a member of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard and saw my friend, Dr. Katie Bugyis, lecture on the liturgical practices of medieval nuns, and I was so amazed and overwhelmed with joy that, as I sat there, the novel I wanted to write fell on my knees.

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

“There are so few real facts about Marie de France known to historians,” Groff said. “They think she might have been a Frenchwoman in an English abbey, or maybe the illegitimate child of a nobleman, or even, maybe one of Eleanor’s daughters of Aquitaine. Nothing verifiable, alas.

“So all I had to do was work with the texts Marie de France left behind, her lays and her fables,” she said. “I drew on both the most vivid images and ideas and built a kind of flash fiction out of those details, which gave birth to 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 an editor’s choice. She followed that up with “Delicate Edible Birds,” a collection of nine stories.

His third novel, “Arcadia,” was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and his fourth book, “Fates and Furies,” was chosen by President Barack Obama as his favorite book of 2015. It was also the Amazon’s book on the 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 Short Stories American 2010 ”, edited by Pulitzer winning writer Richard Russo.

Groff said his upcoming works, although they deal with different subjects and take place in different places at different times, will have “global obsessions that tie them together.” They won’t be sequels, “I think they’re just going to be weird sisters,” she said.

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


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