There’s probably a word in another language that properly describes the weird combination of trepidation and excitement a bookworm feels when they see a second book coming. You see they loved the first one. It was different. With an incredible twist that no one saw coming! It was like seeing The Sixth Sense for the first time, being blown away, then wondering what M. Night Shymalan could possibly do to follow it? If this is what it likes for the reader, imagine the writer’s fear in following such a smash hit as Alex Michaelides’s The Silent Patient. It must have been incredible. So I approached The Maidens as if it was a piñata filled with bees!
The premise sounded interesting. Psychologist Mariana Andros is summoned to Cambridge University by her niece Zoe. It’s a place filled with memories for Mariana, because it’s where she met her late husband Sebastian. For Zoe it is now the place where her best friend Tara has been murdered. Zoe is very special to her aunt, because they are each other’s only family. They have been closer since the death of Sebastian, who drowned on a romantic holiday in the Greek Islands only a year ago. Mariana knows how desperate Zoe must feel, so cancels her group therapy clients and sets off to meet her in Cambridge, where she stays in university lodgings. Here she meets the charismatic and Byronic Professor Fosca who teaches Classical Philology. Mariana is disturbed by him and his habit of gathering together ‘special scholars’ who receive group tuition from him. They are called The Maidens – although whether this is Fosca’s invention or the girls we are never sure and, of course, each one of them is incredibly beautiful, including their missing member, Tara.
Zoe is convinced Fosca is behind the murder, but with no evidence except a strange feeling and dislike of his odd circle of academic groupies, nothing can be done. I had the feeling that this tutor was perhaps a genius in his field, but was socially awkward and unaware of societal norms. Did he think his maidens gave him an air of eccentricity perhaps? However, he was too obvious to be the real villain of the piece. Yet, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t guess the answer. Thankfully the book had a great pace and once it had it me hooked, I just couldn’t leave it alone. I read it in my car on the way to our holiday cottage, in the bath, and in the park. However, I still couldn’t possibly have guessed at the incredibly tense showdown at the end.
For me there were some negatives. I had difficulty connecting to the characters emotionally, especially Mariana who never fully came to life for me. The Greek tragedy element was clever, as quotes on postcards sent to the victims felt like clues to the killer’s identity. However, I was taught classics at school so these references were familiar to me and I wondered how this whole theme would be received for someone without any knowledge of Greek myths. I also felt that how Mariana inserted herself into the investigation was highly unlikely. However, I did enjoy the academic setting and I felt the author captured that sense of importance academics can have about their subject area. I thought the he represented academia well, like being in a bubble, living and breathing your passion. The murders punctured their way through this protective layer, bringing the real world into a rarefied way of life. The passing connection to The Silent Patient wasn’t needed, but did add an interesting aspect to the ending; I now have my own epilogue running in my head, following certain characters into that other fictional world.
I was disturbed by the visitation of a swan, described as having black eyes that bored right through Mariana. I wondered what this represented and thought of the famous Greek myth of Leda and the swan – where Zeus disguises himself as a swan in order to rape/seduce Leda who has no knowledge of the swan’s true identity. For me this conjured up ideas around love or infatuation being blind, loving and trusting someone who isn’t what they seem. What I loved most of all though, was perhaps linked to the swan. The author has created a therapist with all the skills of perception and understanding in her toolbox, but an inability to apply them in her own life. She loves those closest to her blindly, never seeing their true nature just as Leda only sees a swan. Swans are also our analogy for someone very serene on the surface, but masking anxiety or the great effort it takes to be present. Swans look beautifully calm and composed above the water and this reminded me of Mariana; the calm and stability is only skin deep. I thought the novel was part psychological suspense, part crime fiction, and part gothic novel, but it was definitely all thriller.
Meet 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.