The Bossy Bookworm
Review of The Maidens by Alex Michaelides
Michaelides weaves Greek mythology, references to ancient ceremony, and superstition into this dark tale, but the particulars of the book's events and the characters' behaviors often feel absurd and improbable.
The author of The Silent Patient, Alex Michaelides, has a new book set for publication next week--The Maidens. In it, Mariana, a group therapist coping with her own personal tragedies, becomes embroiled in trying to identify and catch a killer at her alma mater, Cambridge University.
Mariana lost her husband a year ago in a holiday accident in her coastal Greek hometown, and she's still reeling. When her beloved niece Zoe calls from her Cambridge dormitory, frantic about her missing friend, Mariana leaves her most problematic client and therapy group and hops on a train to try to help.
The rest of the book seems to hinge on Mariana's intuition and largely drops the therapist aspect except in name; she frequently seems to have a "their emotions aren't my problem" reaction to situations, and her boundaries often don't seem appropriate. One client does make a strange appearance late in the book, which felt jarring and off topic.
Michaelides weaves in Greek mythology, references to ancient ceremony, and superstition into this dark tale, but the particulars of the events and the characters' behaviors in the book often felt absurd and improbable.
Mariana seems to think her reading of people's emotions as a therapist qualifies her to serve as a sort of criminal investigator without training, and there are repeated instances in which she is confident in her suspicion that others are hiding things and feels that her therapist role allows for this certainty. (Her intuition and its accuracy or inaccuracy seems likely to create a crisis for her later in the book, but we don't hear much about the implication of this.)
I found the main protagonist largely off-putting; she seems scattered beyond her understandable lingering grief, and she spends lots of time during this life-and-death crisis and with immediate serial killer danger lurking getting drinks in the early afternoon and going to secluded places with strange men--one of whom is possibly the killer--to fish for clues. All of this seemed odd and made me feel impatient with her.
There's a classic setup of key characters leaving off without finishing their illuminating thoughts in order to keep the mystery going, and not everyone is who they seem (but in the cases of the men, they're often even more dreadful than their initial impressions indicate). Michaelides includes a separate point of view interspersed with Mariana's viewpoint that's from a disturbed, damaged character, identity unknown. It felt like (and was) a red herring pointing to a specific person.
The male characters in this story are obnoxious, condescending, creepy, overly familiar, bossy, demanding, and generally problematic. Some characters behave nonsensically, scene changes and interactions sometimes feel abrupt and unlikely--and, side note, all of the men (including strangers) seem obsessed with and alarmingly aggressive about taking Mariana to dinner or our for drinks. She is mildly annoyed but also seems intrigued. I was puzzled by this whole dynamic, because these men aren't built up to the reader to be worth her attention. (And she has bigger issues to cope with than fending off horribly entitled men, ugh.)
The main suspect felt almost comically sinister, creepily suggestive, and overly familiar--although his manner seems meant to be borderline attractive. He offers outrageously cheesy come-ons that Mariana finds dazzling (with an undercurrent of creep). Her willingness to be alone with him seems silly, why purposely be alone with a potentially dangerous suspect?
There's a bizarre denouement in which basic truths Mariana believes about her life are revealed to be horribly off base. Michaelides also offers a few links to his Silent Patient characters, including an oddly specific reference at the very end.
I received a prepublication digital edition of this book courtesy of Celadon Books and NetGalley.
Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?
I enjoyed Michaelides's popular book The Silent Patient, although I felt like there was some timeline-fudging necessary in order to make the twist work.
But clearly The Maidens was not the right book for me.