Cover Image: The Girl in the Maze

The Girl in the Maze

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Member Reviews

I thoroughly enjoyed this story and seeing how the tale unravelled from generation to generation. Emma's journey was saddening but strangely uplifting too. I couldn't believe some of the twists that were revealed and not only felt sorry for Emma but Margaret too. The more I learnt about Margaret the more you could understand why she turned out how she did. I was so sad for both Emma and Elizabeth for the relationship they lost with Margaret but I was so pleased that they found each other. This was a tense read that showed how one secret can affect many generations.
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The Girl in the Maze by Cathy Hayward is a hauntingly beautiful debut novel following the lives of three generations of the same family. This is a hard-hitting story, which may cause some triggers for readers, but with stories that are at times bleak, this is a novel filled with hope.

This novel centres around the lives of Betty, her daughter Margaret and her granddaughter Emma. Emma is emptying her mother’s apartment following the death of Margaret, but as she does, she is entranced by a painting created by Margaret when she was a young woman, the titular girl in the maze. The painting hints at what Margaret was experiencing as a child.

This book was a fascinating study of what women can experience as mothers, and the pressures they are placed under by what society decides is normal or acceptable. This was such a compelling story of the strength that women possess in adversity and how the trauma in one childhood can have far reaching effects.

This wonderful story was at times heart-breaking to read, but is a book that will stay with me for a long time. I cannot wait to read what Cathy Hayward writes next!
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How much can you learn about someone when they have died? For Emma Bowen, in the last few years of Margaret, her mother’s life she has been distant and removed. Her mother was clearly a difficult woman. But Emma discovers some letters that it seems her mother had a past and one that she least expected.

It seems the will is the first of the surprises for Emma and when a painting is left to a friend of Margaret’s, Emma is trying to piece together everything from her mother’s past which she knew nothing about. The solicitor seems to know more than he is willing and allowed to say apart from one thing “some things are better left in the past”.

Then there is the discovery of a birth certificate, a sister, and actions that are wrong at any point in history. The story that the author tells is from the point of view of Emma in the present and Betty, her grandmother, Margaret’s mother in the late 1930s.

As the past is revealed in the present, Emma learns a lot about what happened to the generation before and how it has shaped the generations that follow. I was shocked by events and the secrets that come tumbling out and the ones that are still kept because the truth does not always help resolve the present.

This is with out a doubt a powerful and disturbing novel and not for the fainthearted, with some powerful subjects which will undoubtedly upset. The impact of the storyline will stay with me for a long time.
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My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book to review. I am a sucker for a book and intergenerational traumas and the relationships between mother and child, specifically mother and daughter. This book was great, very engaging and well-written.
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Gripping and addictive. I loved this read.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for the chance to read a digital arc in exchange for my feedback.
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What an engrossing and accomplished debut novel! A layered family history highlighting how influential a mother can be, whether she is present or absent…

The first few chapters were brutal and heartbreaking to read, but formed a needed foundation for the rest of the novel.

This novel deftly explores the topic of motherhood in all its many guises and permutations. It also explores the intense complexity of parenthood and family relationships, and how we are all shaped by our childhood experiences.

The book puts a fictional slant on how society has changed over the years when it comes to children born out of wedlock. It tells of relationships forged – and relationships destroyed. It portrays the rift between what our parents’ relationships were really like and how we view them as children. How we take our parents for granted until we are no longer able to do so…

“The Girl In The Maze” was an accomplished debut novel that I can highly recommend. I look forward to the author’s next novel.
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What can I say about this book? I can not begin to tell you how much I loved this book! From the moment the book started I was completely riveted.

The book goes from the past, beginning in 1937 where we are introduced to Betty who soon gives birth to Margaret all the way to 2019 where we’re introduced to Emma, Margaret’s daughter.

Emma knew very little about what’s been going on with her mother’s life. But Emma is about to find out more about her mom’s past then she ever knew when she finds some letters left in her room. This is her journey into finding out what happened to her mother and it’s her past that helps her to understand her mother, how her experiences moulded them into the person she became, the difficulties she faced and why their relationship became strained.

The book bounces between Margaret and Betty to Emma throughout and it works quite well. Throughout the story, I felt a full range of emotions. There is a few  moments especially which can be really hard to read. I felt awful for Betty and how she was treated for having a child out of wedlock. But I felt even more so for Margaret and what she went through, it was heartbreaking to read at times.

‘The Girl in the Maze’ is a beautifully written, poignant read about family secrets and motherhood. It really gets you thinking about how bad things were for women eighty years ago and how you may never know what’s going on in a person’s life.

Hands down one of my favourite books to have come out this year. If you love Stacey Hall’s work then you’ll love Cathy Haywood’s debut novel, ‘The Girl in the Maze’.
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Emma has never understood her mother, Margaret. 

Margaret dies, and Emma goes to clear out her flat. So many unanswered questions - why did she and her mother never talk about the past? why was Emma sent away to boarding school so young? why did Margaret dislike their daughter yet leave the flat to her?

A story of family secrets, stigma and shame. Will Emma learn who the 'Girl in the Maze' is and why she was painted? What had her mother been hiding?

At times uncomfortable, this is a book that deals with some difficult subjects, but manages to do so sensitively most of the time.
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This harrowing, nuanced book spans the complex relationships and secrets of three generations of women from one family, plunging the reader into its dread-laden atmosphere from the first scene. 

When teenage Betty locks herself in the mouldy family bathroom, the following grisly scene feels all too familiar, as the desperations of post-war working class family life become visceral. This is a world of few choices for women, and one full of blame and inequality. The impossibility of doing ‘the right thing’ under such pressure, no matter how well intentioned, is a bittersweet thread running through all these women’s lives and fraying their relationships. The structure of Betty’s life is stacked against her, and the weight of judgement presses down.

Family secrets abound as the narrative switches between time periods and generations, with each mother juggling their own interests within the bounds of ‘respectability’. ‘The Girl in the Maze’ is a physical tie between these threads, providing a visually arresting and evocative metaphor for the complications of the women’s lives.

As one character wryly notes, ‘you were never as good a parent as …the day before your first child was born’ and later, ‘nobody warned you about parenting teenagers when you were pregnant’.  These women are often difficult, sometimes cruel in their treatment of each other, but drawn with enough insight into their own pain to elicit readerly compassion. 

Characters are trapped in their own personal mazes, all too often through society’s pressure to conceal anything perceived as unacceptable, forcing them to repress rather than articulate their experiences; ‘It just goes to show how difficult it is to interpret someone’s emotions’. Misunderstandings abound. 

Betty’s daughter Margaret has a similar experience of early motherhood, and a central mystery pivots around the identity of Margaret’s child. There is an emotionally intelligent narrative shift at this point, so that even when events take a truly sinister turn, we still catch a glimpse into the complex web of motivations behind the actions – in the worst of circumstances, we never lose sight of how all human beings are flawed, complex creatures. As a friend observes, family dysfunction can be seen ‘rolling down from generation to generation like a fire in the woods, taking everything in its path.’ 

The story may literally revolve around the experiences of women from one family, but figuratively their stories reflect a much larger reality. Ultimately, this is a narrative that refuses to lose sight of humanity, and its compassion extends even to the least sympathetic characters. ‘At the end of the day you’re just human.’
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‘The girl in the maze’ is one of the best debuts I have read in a long time. The premise is so original and the characters are all so unflinchingly flawed, which adds such an honesty about how complicated family relationships can be. 
After the death of her mother, Emma Bowen finds some private letters which could explain why their bond as mother and daughter was so strained from her childhood. The story unfolds over three generations and has a beautiful pace; I could see a few plotlines in the works before they happened but it didn’t take anything away from the impact that they had within the story itself.
I loved the use of the ‘girl in the maze’ painting at the centre of Emma’s childhood and they way it symbolises how several people can interpret a situation through very different eyes; the perfect way to describe the layered experiences of these women. 
I enjoyed the pace and the appreciated delicate way Hayward handles very difficult themes throughout the book. I am not a huge domestic fiction reader but I enjoyed this one immensely because the way in which Emma learns of her family history is not a perfect linear emotion of shock or fury and that is so much more compelling to me. Emma and her mother and in turn her mother and grandmother had their own burdens which spilled into their relationships.However as Emma develops her own empathy and understanding she definitely changes from the beginning to the end which is wonderful to witness as a reader.
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This was definitely one of the best books I have read this year... I did managed to finish this book within a few hours. It was captivating and difficult to put down.
HIGHLY RECOMMEND
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I was very happy to see that the publisher included trigger warnings on the request page of Netgalley so I could be prepared for the content! I think this is something that should happen more often

The story had good pacing and pulled me in right away. I love a story that spans generations and had switching POVs so this was right up my alley! The book also provides a great look at complex mother-daughter relationships.

The one “negative” aspect (for me) was that some of the writing could feel too long-winded and detailed, getting off topic and away from the plot.

Overall, The Girl in the Maze was a fantastic read and will probably be a favorite for the month! Please keep in mind that this is a dark, emotional read so I’d suggest you look at triggers before considering reading this book. 

Triggers: blood, medical trauma, self harm, abortion, vomit, death of parent, grief, estrangement, cancer (brief), rape, domestic abuse (brief), miscarriage, stillbirth, infertility, toxic relationship, pedophilia, child abuse
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Another historical fiction story that delves into the past but they never get old or boring for me as there is so much history out there to write about.

For Emma the past will help her understand her mother and their relationship (or lack there of).   This story really covers three generations of women (Emma, her mother and her grandmother) and their lives and the effect each life had on the next. There are moments of darkness and light, there are moments regret and the emotions that run through this story are very powerful.

This is a well written book and the characters are all strong women in their own way.  It really brings to life the fact we need to share our stories, good and bad, with our families, not to keep secrets and to be open and honest so that good relationships can be born and love, sorrow and happiness can be shared.
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Set in 2019 with flash backs to earlier times. This was about relationships between mothers and daughters, and secrets.
When Emma’s mother Margaret dies in 2019 Emma is upset that a painting painted by her mother is to go to a total stranger. Emma loved the painting and felt that it should stay in the family.
While packing up her mother’s belongings Emma discovers an old metal box. The papers and the contents in the box leave Emma asking questions about her mother’s secrets.
I loved the way Emma’s story is told and how Emma tries to unravel her mother’s secrets.
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I loved the book the characters were well crafted, not the usual Historical fiction but it did create a feeling of hope.
Like the Girl in the Maze the book attracts you towards itself and you try to solve the myriad web of things
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I’m not sure if I’ve ever read a book with such a disturbing and emotional beginning, as we first meet Betty back in 1937 and are plunged into her world of pain and desperation. It’s a particularly brave decision for a debut novelist, with the real possibility that readers might choose not to read any further – but it’s only a taster for the stunning writing that follows.

This is the story of three women – Betty herself, her daughter Margaret, and Margaret’s daughter Emma in the present day. Margaret’s voice isn’t heard, but her life and the experiences that shaped her are very much the book’s focus. We join Emma as she’s clearing out her flat after her mother’s death – their relationship was never an easy one, and in the years beforehand they’d grown ever further apart and were rarely in contact any more. At her death, Margaret had very much put her affairs in order – with the assistance of her solicitor Graham Eals, who plainly has more knowledge of her life than he’s willing to reveal – and some of her decisions come as a considerable surprise. Finding a series of letters and the contents of a locked box, Emma begins a quest to discover her mother’s secrets, in an attempt to understand how they might have impacted their relationship and shaped her character.

This is a story about motherhood and the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship, and of the way events and choices in the past impact on the present, examined and exposed with exceptional emotional depth in their telling. Some of the secrets of the past are exceptionally difficult to read, raw and painful – reflected in the painting of the book’s title, the child in anguish trapped in the maze – and the author’s writing is strong and assured, making you feel every moment of hurt and despair at your core.

There’s a stark difference between Emma’s own relationship with her husband and children and the complexities of the relationships experienced by the two previous generations, set firmly in their historical context but with a stunning emotional touch. The narrative moves seamlessly backwards and forwards in time – its construction is so cleverly done, and apparently effortless, with its progress relentless and compelling. This is a book that really makes you feel – to hurt, sympathise, rage against the many injustices, weep at the behaviour of others. At times, it’s a difficult book to read, its darker moments almost overwhelming in their intensity – but I found it quite impossible to set it aside, totally immersed in the lives of its characters.

I’ll struggle to forget this book – entirely stunning and original writing from an exceptionally gifted new author, and I recommend it without reservation.
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"Some secrets were probably better left untold." 

The Girl in the Maze is a moving and beautifully told debut that explores generational trauma, family secrets, motherhood, and the complexities of mother and daughter relationships. The pretty, floral cover belies the heart-rending story between its pages as the author shows us the darkest moments of the lives of three women from one family, examining not only how it affects their lives, but the lives of the generations that follow. 

The story seamlessly shifts between timelines and multiple narrators as secrets that have been hidden for decades are unveiled. As the one at the centre of the secrets you would expect Margaret would be one of the narrators, but instead the author opts to tell the story through other members of her family: her daughter, Emma, her mother, Betty, and her step-father, Jack.  At first I didn’t understand this choice, but as I got further into the book I realised what a brilliant decision it was. By giving a voice to everyone except Margaret she remains an enigma. A puzzle for both Emma and the reader to decipher. 

The characters are richly drawn and fascinating, pulling you in and making you care about their story. Emma is a great character and my heart broke for her as I read about the difficult relationship between her and her mother, something that made me even more thankful for the strong bond I have with my own mother.  I felt for her as she struggled to deal with both the grief of Margaret’s death and over the relationship with her that she craved but would never have. But the woman I took deepest into my heart was Betty. That powerful opening chapter hit me right in the feels and created an empathetic bond with Betty that coloured my view of her for the rest of the book. I didn’t see how Margaret could dislike this loving mother who went against not only society, but also her own mother, to keep and raise her daughter. Both of these things helped shape my view of Margaret as the villain, but as the story went on I began to see that there was so much more beneath the surface; hidden layers that peeled away to reveal heartbreaking secrets. This was a reminder of the layers we all have in our characters, that there can be so much more to a person than we know, and that there are sometimes reasons why people behave the way they do. 

"I read an article once about family dysfunction. It described it as rolling down from generation to generation like a fire in the woods, taking down everything in its path. It said that you need one person in one generation to have the courage to face the flames. And that person will be the one to bring peace to their ancestors and spare the children who follow them, and their children."

One thing I particularly loved about this book is how the author uses the painting referenced in the book’s title as a symbol of so many things. Throughout the book we see it as a representation of Emma’s quest to untangle the mysteries her mother left behind, slowly finding her way out of the maze with each clue she solves. But as we learn more about Margaret the painting begins to take on new meaning; also representing the traumas the women experienced. It was an interesting layer to the narrative that added that little something extra to the storytelling.  

Cathy Hayward is an exciting new talent. She tackles difficult subjects with sensitivity and compassion and writes like her words are the roses amongst the thorns; something beautiful even when what she is writing about is dark, bleak and painful. I was captivated by the story and the characters she created and can’t wait to read what she writes next. 

Powerful, emotive and intriguing, The Girl in the Maze is an enthralling debut that I highly recommend. 


Trigger Warnings: abortion, miscarriage, rape, adoption
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“𝐖𝐡𝐨 𝐢𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐥𝐢𝐭𝐭𝐥𝐞 𝐠𝐢𝐫𝐥, 𝐌𝐮𝐦𝐦𝐲?” 𝐚𝐬𝐤𝐞𝐝 𝐄𝐦𝐦𝐚, 𝐛𝐮𝐭 𝐌𝐚𝐫𝐠𝐚𝐫𝐞𝐭 𝐝𝐢𝐝𝐧’𝐭 𝐚𝐧𝐬𝐰𝐞𝐫.
“𝐇𝐨𝐰 𝐝𝐨𝐞𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐰𝐚𝐲 𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐚𝐥𝐰𝐚𝐲𝐬 𝐜𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞, 𝐌𝐮𝐦𝐦𝐲?” 𝐬𝐡𝐞 𝐚𝐬𝐤𝐞𝐝 𝐚𝐠𝐚𝐢𝐧, 𝐥𝐨𝐨𝐤𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐛𝐚𝐜𝐤 𝐮𝐩 𝐚𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐠𝐢𝐫𝐥.
𝐌𝐚𝐫𝐠𝐚𝐫𝐞𝐭 𝐠𝐚𝐯𝐞 𝐚 𝐬𝐥𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐭 𝐬𝐦𝐢𝐥𝐞. “𝐈𝐭’𝐬 𝐧𝐨𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐩𝐚𝐢𝐧𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐜𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞𝐬, 𝐄𝐦𝐦𝐢𝐞, 𝐢𝐭’𝐬 𝐣𝐮𝐬𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐲𝐨𝐮’𝐫𝐞 𝐥𝐨𝐨𝐤𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐚𝐭 𝐢𝐭 𝐝𝐢𝐟𝐟𝐞𝐫𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐥𝐲 𝐞𝐚𝐜𝐡 𝐭𝐢𝐦𝐞.”


Emma Bowen’s mother Margaret has passed away. She had always had her bouts of illness, her nerve problems, nothing that Emma really ever understood but the finality of the end is hard on Emma. After having lived with her mother’s inconsistent love, how is she meant to feel now? For a time, when Emma’s son was born, they were close but it was her daughter’s birth that set off a coldness in her mother. Once again, there was a wall between them. The two communicated but always with great difficulty. Her mother’s life before she met Emma’s father and gave birth to Emma is a mystery, and not one she much cared to inquire after when she was wrapped up in her own youth. She knows her mother left home when she was sixteen, attended art school at some point, even traveled to India but that’s it. Emma had never before been interested in her mother beyond the present. One solid memory though, a bright spot in Emma’s life is the painting of a girl in a maze that Margaret had created when she was just nineteen. It’s a painting she has always liked, been curious about since she was a little girl. Discovering from her mother’s solicitor that it is willed to Margaret’s friend Clare unsettles her. Worse, Clare’s support and friendship with her lonely mother makes Emma feel shamed for not being there at the end, but how could she explain the distance between them?

Betty (Emma’s grandmother) had Margaret when she was young, she knows better than anyone the mean struggle of trying to make a living, and the pain of being judged for the mistakes of youth. In 1937, such things were not accepted, girls like her shunned. Certainly, she wanted the world for Emma’s mom. Meeting a man who became a father to her little girl was a godsend. Jack loved her as his own, so what had Margaret bursting at the seams to move out when she was still a girl? Why did Betty and Margaret have little to no relationship once she grew up? Emma’s father once told her that Betty was simply more in love with her husband Jack than her own daughter. But could there be more to the story? When Emma is sorting through her mother’s things, she discovers life altering secrets that have been kept from everyone. She hadn’t really known her mother at all. Dates don’t add up, there are huge holes in time that aren’t accounted for. Where was her mother between moving out and going to art school? Why was Margaret barely functional as a wife, why did she find her sweet baby granddaughter unlovable? The pieces come together as the reader, alongside Emma, root through the past. Could it be her mother was cold because of her own torment? That she was carrying dark incidents no one should shoulder? Maybe Margaret was stronger than Emma knew? Maybe she did the best she could? That painting may tell a story.

It is about violation and the damage it leaves in its wake. It is also about silence and how bearing the unspeakable poisons the future. Sometimes, in spite of our best hopes, we cannot move past trauma, at the misfortune of those we love most. This was a hard book to digest, and it was terribly sad, mostly because Margaret is only understood after her death. A very heavy subject.

Publication Date: October 28, 2021

Agora Books
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Wow! An incredibly powerful, heartbreaking, thought provoking and powerful story told from the perspective of three generations of women. I couldn't put it down and it is a story that will stay with me.
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This book is dark, but yet extraordinary. 
With the main topic being motherhood, it is something all can relate with. Not just mothers, but anyone who has experience of a mother 
The book explores family dynamics in a fascinating and absorbing way 
It’s deals with some tough subjects, which are hard to read at times, but at the same time, make you want to read on 
There are many secrets buried within this family and I really enjoyed the journey that this author took me on to uncover them 
Thank you for inviting me to be part of the tour
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