In a much-streamed talk at the University of Notre Dame, Lauren Groff admitted with a laugh that ‘every book that I have written is about a utopia’. That last word, coined by Thomas More, playfully blends the Greek words eutopos, or good place, and outopos, the place that cannot be. This tension hums like a wire through Groff’s fiction. A utopia, More reminds us, holds within itself the inevitability of its own failure.
In Matrix, her bestselling 2021 novel that reimagined the life of the 12th-century poet Marie de France, Marie is banished by Eleanor of Aquitaine to a remote English abbey. Over five decades, she transforms the poverty-stricken abbey into a kind of island fortress, a thriving and impregnable community of women. It is a fierce and sharply funny meditation on female power and ingenuity in a world dominated by men.
The Vaster Wilds is the second in what Groff describes as a loose trilogy of novels (the third will be set in the present day). Here she turns the ideas in Matrix upside down. It is set in Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in America, in