I liked Lauren Groff’s novel Matrix so much I wanted to know more about it, and luckily, right after I finished it, a lecture she gave at Notre Dame was posted online.
It’s one of the best talks I’ve heard from a fiction writer. A centrifugal lecture that both explains how the work came to be and spins you out to its inspirations like footnotes.
I drew a bit of it, to help it sink in:
“My art is an art of synthesis,” she says, noting that should be of inspiration to other writers. “You just keep synthesizing and eventually you come up with something.”
The novel was inspired, mainly, by three historical women: Marie de France, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Hildegard of Bingen. Groff said she saw George Cukor’s The Women on a plane, started thinking about The Bechdel Test, and the very next day, saw a lecture by Katie Bugyis, author of The Care of Nuns. They began a friendship which lead directly to the book.
Matrix hits that perfect blurb-y mix of “timeless and timely,” so it was interesting to me that Groff was working out her feelings about historical fiction and time in fiction while writing it. She quotes Ali Smith:
When we meet a work of art, there’s something about that encounter that isn’t fixed in time, but rather, it unfixes time: the shaft opens. The past and present exist in the same moment, and we know, as beings, that we are connected. All the people who lived before us, all who will come after us, are connected in this moment.
Matrix plays with time in interesting ways — it does the zoom in/zoom out thing that I love in fiction, where the writer covers a lot of ground, a whole life, by zooming into scenes and then zooming out and jumping forward in the character’s life (and backwards into flashbacks).
Speaking of time, Matrix is a book that is perfect to read when you’re up late in the night or early in the morning, and your mind is in the state of a sleepy nun. It makes me wonder what time of day/night Groff wrote the book…
The way she talked about discovering the labyrinth as a structure reminded me a bit of Peter Turchi’s A Muse and A Maze. (I was also thinking about Peter’s book when watching Six by Sondheim, and the composer started talking about his love of old games and wordplay.)
Anyways, I loved Matrix, it’s one of my favorite things I read this year, and I can’t wait to catch up on the rest of Groff’s work.