Best read of 2021 so far…

I just finished Lauren Groff’s Matrix and wow!

Here’s the review I posted on Goodreads:

Marie de France has been imagined in historical fiction before; she’s a tempting subject because her life story is a blank and we have only her gorgeous writings: Lanval, Bisclavet, the Fables, the lais, the legends of the saints. Lauren Groff imagines a life history for Marie behind the walls of an English Benedictine abbey, and her evocation of a cloistered existence wider in scope and more powerful than all the courts of Europe is astounding. This novel will, I predict, be held up as an early-21st-century classic of eco-fiction — Groff takes the rhythms of the ecclesiastical year that Marie shapes to her visions of a feminine world at peace with itself, and creates an intimate melding of nature and human industry that the reader can only wish really existed.

This is an astonishingly lovely book, but also urgent in its observation that, as Auden wrote, “we must love one another or die.” In Marie’s world, that love is defined as purely female — maternal, sororal, spiritual, carnal, universal, encompassing all of creation, not just individual egos. The utopia Marie creates for her nuns is breathtakingly beautiful because is it so fragile, and Groff is not shy about reminding the reader that the occasional ecstatic visions that burn Marie are precursors of the warming of the planet. This sounds grim, but really the novel is a joyful, sensual feast, and Marie a gigantic presence reminding us that the world of 900 years ago and the world of today are but a breath apart.

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