Women in power, powerful women

I admit to putting down Lauren Groff’s Matrix months ago; I liked the writing but didn’t cotton to the 12th century story of an ungainly French girl sent from the royal court of Eleanor to prop up a failing nunnery in England. It seemed dreary. Later, my friend Deborah mentioned the book as a study of women’s sanctuary and power. Hel-lo! I picked it up again and patiently made my way into Marie’s story. It’s worth the read. Marie — as a big as a man — puts her brains and brawn into the property and its secluded inhabitants. She grows from a teenager to an old woman; has visions of the Virgin Mary; falls in lust and in love; leads, teaches, bullies. She rights the place financially — maybe too so. (Tension!) When they lack a priest, Marie says the Mass and offers communion. (More tension!) There’s so much to admire about Marie and the women who — for various reasons — remove themselves from society. Groff is the author of several novels, including Fates & Furies, a modern novel about a marriage, and Florida, a collection of stories that I love. (And those who know me know I don’t like story collections.) Groff’s latest novel, The Vaster Wilds, is in my to-be-read pile. I’ll let you know …

You don’t need to be familiar with the beguiling queen Eleanor to appreciate Matrix, but I urge you to read Eleanor of Aquitaine, by Alison Weir, to appreciate Eleanor’s power in France and England during the 12th century, a time when girls and women had little or none. Eleanor’s father, William X, gave Eleanor vast holdings in Aquitaine, about one-third of present day France. That made Eleanor ripe for kidnapping. Marriage was a safer choice, and with her first, she became Queen of France. Safe? Eleanor led the Crusades to free the Holy Land, and was shipwrecked in Sicily. Her marriage failed — no male heirs — which put her again in danger. Eleanor reached out to a cousin; marriage to him quickly made her Queen of England. With Henry II, she had eight children, and became mother of three English kings. Henry imprisoned her for 16 years, for conspiring with one of their sons to overthrow him… When you imagine Eleanor, think Game of Thrones, minus the dragons. That’s the kind of outsized life she led.

More girl power in the current movie Fair Play streaming on Netflix. Wowza. What begins as a sweet sexy romance between two analysts at a hedge fund turns into a horror/thriller/slasher thing I couldn’t stop watching. Terrific performances by Phoebe Dynevor (Bridgerton), Alden Ehrenreich (Oppenheimer) and Eddie Marsan (Ray Donovan). It’s written and directed by Chloe Domont. This is her first feature film. It’s a tightly told story of a man’s undoing by the success of the woman he loves. 

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