Lauren Groff is the sort of author who has such a flawless command of language that a reader can easily find themselves turning pages well into the night just for the sheer pleasure of experiencing their writing. Her latest follows a young woman named Marie, who finds herself sent away from the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine basically for being too unappealing to look at. She finds herself placed in charge of a struggling English abbey, where the few remaining nuns routinely succumb to disease and barely have enough to eat. She initially finds herself distraught about her new situation and at a loss to understand how she could be cast off by someone towards whom she was so loyal, but as she begins to settle into her new role she starts to make changes to improve the conditions of her charges.
The novel covers the whole of Marie’s life from that point onward, as she not only restores the abbey to its former glory but makes it better than it had ever been. As she builds it towards full self-sufficiency she also finds the sort of love and family amongst her sisters that she had long craved. There are hardships and trials throughout, but Marie and her fellow nuns continuously surprise the hostile world around them by rising to the occasion again and again.
Groff’s writing is gorgeously descriptive without being needlessly flowery. She conjures up images both divine and debauched with the skill and flow of a poet. Marie shows how there is a great deal of good in all of us no matter how flawed we may seem, or indeed be, while also being, along with her sisters, a shining beacon of female empowerment. She is one of the better characters in recent memory, and one that you will be glad to have gotten familiar with. ★★★★★
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor