This is a read that I was thrilled about. It’s everywhere- on Tiktok, on Instagram, on Facebook- everyone talks about their recent reads and this book always seems to be in that list. I’ve heard glowing reviews, excitement to read it, and hype up to the max degree. Which is why my review is a dismal 2/5 stars, as it didn’t live up to the hype, and in fact, it horrifies me that so many people enjoyed this novel.
At first, I found myself perplexed by the tone of the novel. It felt less like I was reading a mental health professional, and more like I was reading an old detective novel. What should have been a read that sucked me in and went quickly, was instead painfully slow. I felt the book crawling, and found the writing to be dry, rife with short statement sentences that made the music of the book tonally flat. I haven’t read anything else by Alex Michaelides- though The Maidens is in my TBR list- and I don’t know if this is the author’s voice, or if it’s just this particular novel’s tone, but it was thoroughly unenjoyable and I found myself waiting for it to pick up.
Finally, it did- at least I thought so. We got into more character development, more from Alicia’s perspective, but… this is where I found the most fault. The formatting of this novel is downright bizarre: Each part resets the count of the chapters, which was aggravating to say the least. That is a method I’ve seen used in non-fiction but never in fiction, and I found myself irritated. Not only that, but throughout the novel are Alicia’s “diary entries”, bits of story told from her perspective. But this pissed me off! They are titled diary entries, and she even explains she’s writing down her thoughts: But they’re written like scenes. Many of them contain full back and forth dialogue, with perfect recollection. I would have rather seen them just as they were: Alicia’s point of view scenes. Having them be “diary entries” was angering, because they weren’t. Diary entries, when written by a character, are not written in this way. I found it distracting, taking me out of the book and unable to connect with Alicia. The wonky formatting did nothing but lower my opinion of this book, and make it impossible to relax into the novel.
As the book went on, I became increasingly aware of two more things I despised: The way mental health is handled, for one, and sexual commentary through Alicia’s point of view, for another. On the first point, this is a book steeped in mental health, with most of the cast of characters being therapists or doctors- or having mental health issues. Some areas are done well, but some are done so horribly that it makes me shudder to think of people reading this book and taking this portrayal as fact. The opinion of main character Theo regarding the patients at The Grove can sometimes be not only ignorant, but offensive. I think a lot of the mental health related moments in this book are poorly researched, or just poorly presented. As for my second point: Moments where Alicia described her husband, and her feelings for him, were often cringeworthy to read. She was written with this idolization of him, this passionate desire for him in perfectly normal, everyday situations. It was as if reading one of those internet memes about “men writing women”. I think it was unappealing, poorly done, and bordering on unrealistic. I found myself wondering why the abrupt sexual commentary was in this book at all- because it popped up more than once.
The one decent thing I can say about this story is that it has all the beats of a good story- even if they’re poorly done. There are decent bits of character descriptions when they get introduced, the story idea is solid, and there were some parts that weren’t so bad.
But the way this story is told was horrendous. Shifting timelines lead to a really big payoff to the mystery- but only if you don’t figure it out before you get there, and unfortunately, there were some fairly big tells for the end if you are an experienced reader of thrillers, or if you were paying enough attention. Not only that, but there are some storylines that go unanswered, and they feel like they were just there to distract and trick. I felt like the end reveal was the focus and everything that led up to it was just meant to be a distraction, instead of a real part of the story. It was annoying to see all these ideas go nowhere.
Most of all, the thing that infuriated me the most was that the entire book is about one simple question. Why is Alicia silent- why doesn’t she talk? Only, the answer to this is not a good one. It’s deeply metaphoric, surrounded by a Greek myth, full of intrigue- but the payoff is so poor, and it leaves a lot to be desired. The most important aspect of this book, and it’s utterly disappointing.
Overall, this book is probably a 3/5. But I chose to give it a 2/5 because of my struggle to get through it, and my disappointment in comparison to the hype. I regret wasting my time reading it. I write about mental health all the time- so to see this book, a poor excuse for representation, get so much undeserved hype makes me all the more upset. This is a slow, agonizing read that made me grit my teeth, and I hope those who read it are not easily fooled by the tricks that cover up what is an amazing plot turned into mush by poor writing.