'The Maidens' is the newest release from Alex Michaelides, bestselling author of the debut sensation 'The Silent Patient.' A psychological thriller housed within St. Christopher's College, Cambridge, the author binds mystery and murder to themes of classic Greek mythology.
Told primarily through the narrative of Mariana, a group psychotherapist who's a year into mourning for her late husband, the woman is drawn back to the place where their love story began by what is quite likely the only thing that could motivate her to set foot there. A call for help from her niece, Zoe, regarding her best friend's murder.
Drifting between the memories of their courtship haunting her still and the secrets stacking up around her that seem to be held tightly by both the students and faculty members, Mariana struggles to put the pieces together. Strangeness is afoot amongst a select group of students referred to as The Maidens and their darkly charismatic professor, Edward Fosca.
From the opening pages, Michaelides captures grief exquisitely, affixing it to the page with the expertise of a collector.. as if it's a butterfly pinned neatly under glass for the rest of us to study. Above all else, it's the ability to convey those emotions.. so richly textured, that inextricably bound me to this story through its end.
It certainly doesn't hurt that the author himself seems to be well-read. More than once, though I was loathe to put the book down, I found myself pausing in search of referenced writings that I'd never cared enough to read prior. His romantic description behind Tennyson's grief drove me to read the 3,000 line masterpiece, 'In Memoriam.' I researched theses for Antigone, dissertations on Euripides, and though Aristotle is one of my favorites.. this book had me viewing 'The Poetics' through a different lens entirely.
Periodically, snippets of another narrative appear throughout the book. Snippets of what could be diary entries from an individual who has known great suffering and may in fact be inflicting the same on others. Interestingly enough, there are so many choices presented by the author, that it's difficult to even stick with a guess as to who it might be.
Eloquently penned, the story moves at a steady pace, weaving.. labyrinthine through the lives affected by the murder. Those ripples reaching in some cases much farther than we might anticipate, creating more difficult situations on top of the first.
Though Michaelides did keep me guessing to the end, my only complaint is that I felt almost cheated. I felt robbed of the moment where I might look back and say to myself, "I should have seen that," because it wasn't there. It wasn't just subterfuge and misdirection, it was a blank canvas. I like to call it the 'Saw' treatment.. and never have I been so infuriated by a film.
Don't get me wrong, I loved the book. In a lesser writer's hands that feeling would have won out, but it's just so beautifully crafted and so emotionally driven.. that I forgive him for taking a path that just personally displeases me. I'm truly grateful for having read this story, I haven't been so immersed in a long time.
If you like tense thrillers with a psychological bent and an elegant, artistic approach.. this is the book for you.