The Maidens Review

The Maidens Review

As the temperature begins to drop and the spirit of Halloween remains even after the holiday has passed, it remains the perfect time of the year to invest in a thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat. This might be found for some through The Maidens by Alex Michaelides – a chilling story about a group therapist who accidentally becomes invested in the murder of a young girl at Cambridge University after discovering that her niece’s best and only friend, Tara, was the victim. After having conversations with her niece, she becomes convinced that the murderer was Professor Edward Fosca, a teacher of Greek classics at the university who runs a separate study group known as the Maidens, composed of his favorite students – all women – that Tara had been a part of. However, his well-loved status at the university makes him difficult to condemn, and she doesn’t have any concrete evidence, which leads to a challenging investigation that she herself must lead.

Alex Michaelides successfully creates an alluring novel detailing this investigation through demonstrating mastery in developing suspense, applying a vast knowledge of human psychology, and utilizing the artful command of the English language that has allowed for him to become a star early in his career (his only other book, The Silent Patient, was also met with high praise).

Suspense is created within the novel through a myriad of techniques that work together in order to keep the reader on the edge of their seat. This is done in part through the format of short, two to five page chapters that keep the reader turning the page for longer than they may have originally intended to sit down and read for. Another unique aspect of The Maidens is the incorporation of excerpts in between chapters that detail the murderer’s perspective. These chapters slowly reveal small details about the murderer that give the reader just enough information to make guesses. However, numerous characters mention details in their lives that connect to those that the murderer explains, so it remains challenging to figure out who is responsible for the murders. The violent, psychotic nature that the narrator speaks in also makes the reader feel frightened, further contributing to the tense nature of the novel. 

Suspense is also created through the application of in-depth knowledge of human psychology. The main character of The Maidens, Mariana, is a group therapist, and thus situations and information through this lens. She also had a distant and cruel father growing up, and she uses her experiences with that situation to better understand the many other characters in the novel that share the same background as well as uses it for a possible explanation for the existence and cooperation of The Maidens as well as for a possible cause for the murderer’s mental state. This knowledge makes The Maidens an even more chilling novel in that it makes it seem more realistic and as though it could truly happen. It also makes the novel more interesting for the reader in that it connects it to broader ideas and topics that they could further think about and explore after they finish reading the novel – thus allowing for it to stick with them longer.

Additionally, Michaelides uses strong descriptive language in order to keep the reader engaged in the novel and enjoy the process of reading it despite the disturbing topics that it covers. This is done especially through the descriptions of Cambridge University, which are painted to be magical, surreal, and at times a bit sinister too. This helps to provide a balance with the other gorey, more psychologically thrilling parts of the novel while also contributing to the suspense in that the beauty of Cambridge sometimes distracts the reader from clues about the murder being dropped into scenes that otherwise seem innocent and magical that they will only remember and realize with great shock when the true story of the murder is revealed.

However, The Maidens is not a perfect novel. There were a few subplots that seemed forced and out-of-place in the novel. While it is likely that they were there to further amplify the recurring theme of the effects of childhood abuse and provide possible red-herrings, they are not added as cleanly as they could have been. Additionally, while there are enough hints throughout the novel to defend the story of the murder when it is finally told, there are aspects of it that seem a little out of place and forced, and it likely could have been foreshadowed with a little more clarity. Still, this nature of the details being completely overlooked by both the characters in the novel and the reader can also be seen as amplifying other themes in the novel and not totally random and out-of-pocket.

The Maidens is similar to The Secret History by Donna Tartt in structure and elements of plot, especially those referring to the Maidens, so it may find a better chance at connecting with lovers of that novel, but overall The Maidens is a good choice for anyone looking for a good scare during these spooky autumn months.