New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)

‘Fates and Furies’ author sets new novel in nunnery

- “Matrix,” by Lauren Groff (Riverhead Books)

Little is known about Marie de France, a 12th century poet who lived in England but is known for the romances and fables she wrote in French. From a handful of facts, Lauren Groff has written a richly imaginativ­e account of her life that casts her as a mystic, warrior and proto-feminist separatist.

The story begins with a cinematic flourish: A teenage Marie “rides out of the forest alone” to oversee an impoverish­ed abbey in England. She has been banished from the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine and will spend her early days at the convent pining for the love, music and laughter of the court at Westminste­r.

Eventually, she will buckle down and transform the filthy, disease-ridden place into a prosperous “island of women,” “self-sufficient, entire unto themselves.” Groff, the bestsellin­g author of “Fates and Furies,” brings to vivid life the appalling conditions of the period, such as burying the sick “crown to toe in warm manure” to cure them. Yet she also finds much to admire in the rituals and rhythms of a monastic life devoted to prayer — and not an insignific­ant amount of steamy sex.

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