“The Matriarch Matrix,” by Maxime Trencavel

Coming to novel writing from a storytelling tradition myself, I was forced to learn the truth that being a storyteller does not make one a novelist. A storyteller has his or her personal performance skills to attract and hold the attention of the audience. The novelist has no such advantage. So people who come from storytelling traditions tend to talk too long. They explain everything in detail from their post on high, missing the opportunity to show the reader humans acting out their humanity through dialogue. They push the educational element of their story to extremes.

Enter “The Matriarch Matrix,” a novel steeped in the oral tradition.

This tale takes place in three different time settings: the origin of the myth, 12,000 years ago, the immediate past in the Middle East, ten years ago, and the “present day” world of 2021. The different timelines are written in different styles, with common themes throughout. The story from the distant past is especially formed as if spoken in the oral tradition of the people it portrays, and thus is wordy, repetitive and objectively third person.

However, in all the settings, men are archetypically huge in size, rapacious in intent. Most characters are larger than life: more beautiful, more powerful, more geeky, more internally tortured. As is expected in a myth, but much more than we wish in a novel.

So this is not really a novel, but more a series of stories told in the ancient way by different storytellers. Thus for great swaths there is no dialogue, only explanation and telling of action, much if it telling us what we are supposed to think. When people do converse, they have long, convoluted discussions about ancient life and religion and whether God was merely alien beings that contacted us long ago.

Several major themes are wound through the narrative. A not-unusual idea is that events happening in the time of myth recur, over and over again, because of mankind’s inability to progress. That’s mankind, not humankind, because, the book being of a matriarchal slant, it’s women that have the right ideas. Another idea investigated asks us to consider if a loved one faced a life worse than death, would we kill that person out of mercy? Man’s inhumanity to women also crops up, although I cannot argue with the details. Having personally interviewed some of the victims of ISIS recently, I can vouch for the truth of these stories. Far from being exaggerated, they have been toned down for publication.

And I hope that the prophetic nature of the final theme (the problem of Kurdish independence) is in error. The solution to all the problems of the Kurdish people, and especially their women, is laid out in one long, unlikely monologue, against a series of events in the story and a present-day unfolding of reality that denies the likelihood that it will work. Oh, well. It is Fantasy after all.

Recommended for fans of storytelling and myth, Middle East history buffs, and avid readers. 500 pages to tell what could have been said in 450.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)




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