The Maidens by Alex Michaelides: The Allure of Greek Tragedies Amidst Brutal Campus Killings – Book Review

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides is a Greek, psychological thriller that follows a woman named Mariana Andros, who’s a group therapist. When her niece’s roommate is found murdered on campus at Cambridge, Mariana heads over to the university to help console her niece, Zoe, as well to help figure out who killed Zoe’s roommate. The more embroiled that she becomes in the crime and the circumstances surrounding it, the more Mariana is convinced that the culprit can only be one person, a renown professor of Greek tragedies. As the bodies start piling up, Mariana’s obsession threatens to dismantle her reputation and the relationships that matter the most to her.

The author’s debut novel, The Silent Patient, was a wickedly fun and unexpected treat. It was easily one of my favourite reads for the year. When I received my copy of The Maidens, the only two things that I truly expected based on my prior experiences with Mr Michaelides was an unreliable narrator and one mind-fuck plot twist. Suffice to say that we get both in this second novel, but it didn’t quite satisfy the psychological cravings as marvellously as its predecessor.

The compelling traits of this book include its implementation of Greek mythology, specifically the tragedies, the main character’s mounting obsession and what it symbolises, and the Cambridge setting. The aspects that could’ve used a bit more polishing include the motives of the crimes, including the culprit(s), a tighter construction of storytelling, and less unreliability as it had a bit of an opposite effect.

The analytically academic and psychological perspectives of the Greek tragedies that were discussed and thus used to set the mood and parallels for the overarching crime were the most fascinating aspects of The Maidens. While I wasn’t familiar with each and every tragedy mentioned, the ones I was familiar with added a neat little bit of dimension to the reading as my mind connected the metaphors within the narrative. It created excitement and anticipation for how everything would connect to an ultimate climax. In that sense, it didn’t disappoint… much.

Because everything is meticulously crafted and each scene and subsequent unravelling of plot was so carefully curated, the story as a whole was a slow-burn tale of intrigue. It was very stylish and built an air of tension that was, unfortunately, at time rather tenuous. The main reason that the slow-burn characteristics never had time to bloom into a full throttle flame of the “thrilling” bit of psychological thriller is mostly due in part to the supremely short chapters. The one-to-two page chapters push from one side to tell a story that is fast-paced and riveting, yet the deliberate exposition of the psychology within Greek mythology shoves in opposition for something slower and more contemplative. The two never develop a harmonious balance but mostly just fight for dominance and it creates an awkward pacing and overall development to the criminal plotline., which brings me to the plot twist.

I knew that the plot twist was going to be something wholly unexpected, and yet when it finally did have its big reveal, it felt so incredibly anti-climactic. The main reason for this is that it was so out of left field, seemingly inserted for total shock value rather than a comfortable and sensical outcome of the pre-established core story qualities. I understand the nature of this reveal will make many readers uncomfortable, which may be a big issue in and of itself, but I was more bothered by how much it didn’t fit, like pushing a square peg into a triangle slot. (In terms of the content itself, I may just be rather desensitised to it as I tend to read a lot of rather dark and fucked-up thrillers and things.)

Aside from those complaints, all in all, The Maidens wasn’t a bad follow-up to The Silent Patient. There are a couple of Easter eggs tossed into this book that made me chuckle with appreciation, as well as mild curiosity to re-visit the earlier work for fun, but it wasn’t as deliciously effortless as Michaelides’ debut. Even so, if one is a fan of Greek tragedies and curiously intriguing psychological thrillers, along with damp and dreary campus settings, then I would RECOMMEND this to you, even if you only like to dabble in the genre every once in a while. It’s not a bad book by far, but it’s also not too far above the average threshold either.

Publication Date: June 2021
Publisher: Celadon Books (978-1250304452)
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Page Count: 352
Content Warnings: Violence and blood. Deaths. Strong elements of grief and mourning. Some sexual content. Mild misogyny and female objectification. Discussion of mental illnesses. Portrayal of stalking. Mention of statutory rape. Alcohol consumption. Detailed descriptions of food and food consumption.
Availability: In-print; Hardback, paperback, eBook, and audiobook formats available.

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2 thoughts on “The Maidens by Alex Michaelides: The Allure of Greek Tragedies Amidst Brutal Campus Killings – Book Review

  1. Great review! Sorry it didn’t quite live up to your expectations, but it sounds like there was plenty to like in the end. I was one of the few who didn’t particularly like The Silent Patient but wanted to check this out because it sounds like something right up my alley with the academic setting. Would you say that even for people who aren’t familiar with Greek tragedies that this would be a good option to pick up? Hesitant because I know next to nothing about Greek tragedies so I’d love to hear from you!

    • It’s easy to follow the main story if one is unfamiliar with Greek tragedies or mythologies, but if it’s not a subject you’re interested in, like at all, then it can feel tedious and make it difficult to stay interested in what’s going on. At least, that’s the vibe I got while reading it.

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