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Literature

Alex Michaelides’ Latest Page-Turner: The Maidens

August 15, 2021

Ancient myths have been a source of inspiration for millennia. The Maidens by Alex Michaelides blends Greek mythology, murder, and obsession in a taut psychological thriller that draws the reader in from the very first page.

The author’s sophomore effort is a worthy follow-up to his debut novel, The Silent Patient, published in 2019, which spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list and is currently being developed for a film adaptation by Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company, according to an author interview in The Bookseller magazine.

The Maidens, published in June 2021, includes key elements that captivated readers of The Silent Patient- Greek mythology, therapy, and a psychologist at the center of a murder mystery. Michaelides, born in Cyprus to a Greek father and English mother, studied English literature at Trinity College, Cambridge University, and earned his MA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. He also studied psychotherapy for three years and worked for two years at a secure psychiatric unit for young adults, both of which provided inspiration for his first book and for The Maidens as well.

The book follows Mariana Andros, a brilliant but troubled group therapist who becomes fixated on The Maidens, a secret society of female students at Cambridge, when one member, a friend of Mariana’s niece Zoe, is found murdered.

Mariana, who was once herself a student at the university, quickly suspects that a handsome and charismatic Greek tragedy professor, Edward Fosca, is the murderer regardless of his alibi.

The myth of Persephone, also called the maiden, and her journey to the underworld figures into the mystery and when another body is found, Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt spirals out of control, threatening to destroy her credibility as well as her closest relationships. Mariana is determined to stop the killer, even if it costs her everything, including her own life.

London-based Michaelides spoke about his writing process for The Maidens in an interview posted on his U.S. publisher Celadon Books’ website: “The actual writing of the book during lockdown gave me a way to escape from my apartment — in my mind, at least. Every day, I was able to journey to Cambridge in my head, and try to live there. And in a way, lockdown was good for me creatively; it enabled me to focus. There’s nothing like being locked up in your apartment to concentrate your mind.”

Of the influence of Greek mythology on his work and especially on the plot of The Maidens, Michaelides said: “I think growing up in Cyprus, immersed in Greek mythology and Greek tragedies, inevitably provided me with a world in which to dwell creatively as a writer. I’m extremely grateful for my upbringing and my education, my heritage, I suppose — it’s definitely enriched me as a writer. I’m always thinking about the myths — they are timeless and violent, magical and powerful; stories about passion and heartbreak and love and loss. I feel closest to Euripides; he’d have to be on my list of writers who have majorly influenced me. And in The Maidens I’m looking at the myth of Iphigenia, who was sacrificed by her infanticidal father, Agamemnon, at the start the Trojan War. Except in Euripides’ version of the myth, she sacrifices herself to please her father — which is a much more complicated and perverse relationship. And something about that — about why we sacrifice ourselves for others, in order to win their ‘love’ — captured my imagination. I looked for a way of writing about that story in a fresh way, and the plot grew from there.”

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides is available online and in bookstores.

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