Today I’m re-sharing my thoughts on The Maidens by Alex Michaelides. I first shared my review as part of the blog tour for the hardback and ebook release, but the book is about to be released in paperback and has a shiny new cover too, so what better excuse to take another look at this most intriguing of stories. My thanks to publisher Weidenfeld and Nicolson for the brand new copy of the book. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
St Christopher’s College, Cambridge, is a closed world to most.
For Mariana Andros – a group therapist struggling through her private grief – it’s where she met her late husband. For her niece, Zoe, it’s the tragic scene of her best friend’s murder.
As memory and mystery entangle Mariana, she finds a society full of secrets, which has been shocked to its core by the murder of one of its own.
Because behind its idyllic beauty is a web of jealousy and rage which emanates from an exclusive set of students known only as The Maidens. A group under the sinister influence of the enigmatic professor Edward Fosca.
A man who seems to know more than anyone about the murders – and the victims. And the man who will become the prime suspect in Mariana’s investigation – an obsession which will unravel everything…
The Maidens is a story of love, and of grief – of what makes us who we are, and what makes us kill.
From the moment I heard about this book I have to admit to being intrigued. It sounded very different from the author’s first book, The Silent Patient, and yet having been drawn into the twisted and complicated world of Alicia Berenson before, I knew that the author was very capable of spinning and engrossing story and was very keen to see how he followed the story up. The answer is in style, but a style that is quite different to its predecessor, whilst managing a nod to that story to those already in the know.
The Maidens combines a tense and undulating psychological thriller with the college campus thriller and a kind of high brow nod to the ancient greek mythology and philsophers, very much in keeping with its setting of the ancient and respected institution that is Cambridge University. Whilst the campus and residence that the majority of the action is set may be fictional, the sense of tradition and pomp of the University it created in great detail, and whilst I may not have personal experience of the University, it rings true, that whole sense of the elitism and the pursuit of knowledge and the deference to the classical education that you might associate with the college.
Whilst this is set in a University, that is merely a backdrop to what is, essentially, a very dark tale of murder. The victims are all students under on certain Professor, a man who seems to wield a disproportionate amount of influence over his students, particularly the female ones. It doesn’t take to large a leap to determine where part of this story is going, but that is far from being all this is about. There is a much darker story in play, one which is cleverly drip fed to readers although we may not note its significance in the early parts of the book.
The book is split into two threads in the main. The central action follows former Cambridge University student turned therapist, Mariana Andros, who returns to her Alma Mater after being called by her niece, Zoe, when her closest friend is murdered. Mariana initially goes to support her niece, but soon becomes embroiled in the investigation in a way which could prove her undoing. Alongside this are some almost confessional chapters, a first person narrative, the source and relevance of which are not instantly apparent. Whilst I didn’t warm to Mariana, her tenacity and determination to uncover a truth, bordering as it was on the obsessional at times, almost mirrored my own desire to determine what was going on. She insinuates herself in the investigation when she should perhaps walk away, but with the unnerving, overly creepy behaviour of Professor Edward Fosca in play, it is easy to see why she wouldn’t leave.
There is a real undercurrent of unease and tension throughout the book, amplified by matters from Mariana’s personal life. She is wrapped up in a grief that is palpable at times and the author draws readers into her past as a means to inform her present actions. All the time I had a feeling of there being far more to the story than meets the eye, and that nagging feeling that the answer was lurking just out of reach. The story is rich in symbolism, driven by the stories of ancient Greek Gods, whose history mirrored the brutal acts of today. There is a deep psychological element to the story, the author drawing on his own knowledge and experience to explore the motivations of the killer both through the investigation, with Mariana drawing on her own education and training and that of friends and colleagues, and through the symbolic elements of the narrative.
The pacing of the novel is slower than my usual reads, although the tension does pick up at times, a sense of urgency pervading the text especially towards the very shocking and unexpected ending. This is a story with a very dark side, an exploration of the abuse of power, and of how easily a fragile mind can be twisted and come to depend on others far too easily. It is easy to forget that elements of this are fictional as they could be drawn from many recent live cases, and the author adds a real authenticity to the story in the way the complicated relationships are unveiled. This felt a very intellectual read, and it may be that ideas of the classical literary references and mythology might put readers off, but I would say look beyond that, as behind that mystical veil lies a very clever psychological thriller that kept be held captive to the very end.
About the Author
Alex Michaelides was born and raised in Cyprus. He has a MA in English Literature from Trinity College, Cambridge University, and a MA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. The Silent Patient was his first novel. It spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list and sold in a record-breaking 49 countries. He lives in London.
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