The Maidens by Alex Michaelides: A review

 

I read and reviewed Alex Michaelides' first novel, The Silent Patient, last year. I mostly enjoyed the experience and so I was up for another ride with him this year. The Maidens is his latest effort and frankly, it almost seems like a ripoff of the earlier book. Once again we have a psychotherapist who tries to solve a mystery. This time it is Mariana Andros, a young woman who was widowed over a year earlier when her husband drowned off a Greek island. She is still mourning that loss when she receives a distraught phone call from her niece, Zoe, who is a student at Cambridge. Zoe is frantic because a young woman, a fellow student who she knows has been murdered. Mariana rushes to Cambridge to support and protect her niece.

Now, I'm not familiar with Cambridge, so I'll have to defer to Michaelides in his description of the culture and society there, but if it is correct, then I think the school is ready for a bit of an update to bring it into the twenty-first century. We have the bowler-hatted porters who seem to control things and the "buttery" that provides food. And Michaelides' Cambridge apparently has been utterly bypassed by any awareness of the possibility and consequences of sexual misconduct between professors and students in the #MeToo era. Here we have a secret society of female-only students who are completely in thrall to a brilliant and handsome classics professor named Edward Fosca. He calls them "The Maidens." Nothing creepy about that.

The Maidens follow Fosca without question. He conducts private tutorials with each of them and throws parties for his students only. There's no mention of any of his male students if he has any or if they get invited to those parties. None of the college's administrators take any notice of this or find it unusual or questionable. Then the Maidens start getting murdered one by one in fairly gruesome and ritualistic fashion. That dead student that Zoe called her aunt about was the first murder. Two more such murders ensue, but the professor seems unconcerned about the fact that his followers are being picked off. He basically shrugs and says, "Oh, well, whattaya gonna do?"

The policeman in charge of the investigation is Chief Inspector Sangha but he doesn't dazzle us with his competence. Mariana is convinced that Fosca himself is responsible but she is unable to persuade others, so she carries on her own investigation. And, oh yes, along the way she locks eyes with a graduate student in mathematics who falls instantly in love with her and proposes soon after.

Meanwhile, this narrative is being interspersed with information about Mariana's backstory and her life with her husband and with Zoe. And we are getting a third perspective from the unknown killer. It's all meant to build suspense and to guide us toward Michaelides' unexpected and, I thought, highly unlikely conclusion.

I finished reading this book a week ago and my assessment of it has been marinating since then. I remember a similar experience with The Silent Patient. In the end, I decided to be generous in my rating for that book but my generosity has taken a hit over the last year. This book feels quite derivative of that first effort. The therapist protagonist of the first book even makes an appearance in this one to give Mariana some guidance at one point. The writing is pedestrian and the characters are flat. None of them really sparked my empathy. (Maybe that has taken a hit, too.) My debate with myself this time was whether to award the book two stars or three. I decided to be ruthless; two it is.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Comments

  1. Thank you for this. I thought "The Silent Patient" was highly over-rated.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There hasn't been as much hype about this one. Perhaps other reviewers have felt as I did.

      Delete
  2. I smiled as I was reading your review - your keen observations made me rethink my 4/5 star rating. You know I think by often choosing audio books over print, I really miss the many of the smaller details and interesting quotes that tend to stand out in the print version. Sorry this failed to impress - I hated the animal violence references.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To be honest, my initial reaction to the book was more positive than my review ended up being, but as the days passed and I thought more about it, all these little things began to niggle at me and by the time I finally got around to writing, my estimation of it had fallen.

      Delete
  3. i empathize highly with "marinating assessments"... i've heard said or read that new authors' second efforts seldom match the initial conception; this appears to be a demonstration of that?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As Phillip said, his first book may have been over-praised, but, yes, this one fell a bit flat.

      Delete
  4. Great review, Dorothy. i have little doubt that you rating is warranted.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I try to be honest in my reviews, at least to give my honest reaction which some may feel may or may not be warranted.

      Delete
  5. Sounds as if this author may have inadvertently written the first two books in a "series" rather than two standalones. Mimicking the plot of a successful book is definitely not the best way for a writer to follow-up something that has done well for them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The inclusion of the main character from the first book in a sort of "walk-on" role here would support that hypothesis. There really did not seem to be a good reason for that, other than perhaps the author is thinking in terms of a series.

      Delete
  6. I haven't read either of his books, but I have both on my TBR list. Now I'm wondering which one is the better read, because it sounds like reading both may be a waste of time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would never want any review of mine to discourage anyone from reading a particular book. After all, reading is a very personal thing and your reaction may be totally different than mine and is equally valid.

      Delete
  7. Sounds like your 2 star rating is warranted for this read! I have yet to read anything written by Alex Michaelides and I think I'll hold off for now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He seems to be stuck with one plot. The repetition just didn't work.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Poetry Sunday: Excerpt from The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney

Open Season (Joe Pickett #1) by C.J. Box - A review

Poetry Sunday: Invitation by Mary Oliver