Cover Image: The Girl in the Maze

The Girl in the Maze

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Member Reviews

"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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The Girl in the Maze is the story of the relationship between three generations of women: Margaret, Emma and Libby

When Margaret dies she leaves her home to Libby, much to Emma's surprise as Margaret has never had time for Libby. A painting which Emma has always liked, the titular Girl in a Maze, has been left to Margaret's friend Clare, someone who has befriended Margaret during the years that Emma and her mother have had little or no contact. Upon discovering letters written by Margaret to her own mother, Betty, Emma delves into the past and discovers some horrendous family secrets. 

I am glad the publisher gave an indication of possible triggers. The only issue I had was that, for me, Clare didn't belong in the narrative. Other than that The Girl in the Maze is a gripping yet sensitive read and I recommend it highly. Many thanks to NetGalley and Agora Books for the opportunity to read and review this book.
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With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. I always enjoy reading a dual time frame novel so was looking forward to reading this novel. And it was also a pleasure to read a novel that takes place somewhere I have visited and could recognise, Morecambe. The whole theme of the novel concerns family  and how attitudes years earlier had an impact on Emma and her family in modern day.  It was a little upsetting at times to read how her mother and grandmother both suffered in their teens. Twenty years apart but nothing had improved.
Many people will be familiar with the mother and baby homes or the laundries where a young woman had her child snatched away from her. The trauma suffered by Margaret in this novel was just how I would imagine it to be. A very difficult family life, abused and that abuse ignored by the one who could have done something to help. It would be easy to dislike her and her treatment of Emma and her young family but all I felt was sympathy. And she was a character who I only knew through the narrative of others. 
One of the strongest aspects of this novel were the letters. Most of what happened in the past was revealed by these and towards the end of the novel they became more remorseful and upsetting. It made me wonder how many families went through similar experiences and how many of those never found any answers. And it was also a stark reminder how important it is to talk, Emma and her own family could have had a completely different relationship with Margaret if they had been able to talk about the past. 
There was some detestable characters but most who featured felt normal and likeable. All of them had their life changed by some appalling acts that could have been avoided.
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This is the story of three generations of mothers. When Emma's mother dies she starts to uncover some sad truths about her mother and grandmother.  It is told in a bitty way,  jumping from past to present. I thought the characters were under developed and just there to tell the story, especially the men, who are just names, except for Jack who suddenly turns wicked without warning.  The opening chapter is quite graphic and there are a lot of descriptive phrases thrown in which add nothing to the story. Overall I thought it was cliched and unoriginal.
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A tale of motherhood & all the characteristics of that relationship across 3 generations. Emma begins to clear out her mothers flat after she passed away & begins to unravel the secrets of her mothers past. Strained relationships between mother & daughter along with the mystery of who ‘The Girl in the Maze’ painting was left to, I was captivated by this story from the start.
Thanks NetGalley for my advanced copy!
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Emma had never been close to her mother.

After her mother’s death however, she finds something that may not only explain why her mother was always a little distant but also a secret that will change Emma’s life forever.

I found the premise of this novel immediately intriguing. I have always been fascinated by the relationship between mothers and daughters.

Told from the point of view of Betty, her Daughter, Margaret and Granddaughter, Emma, it gives the reader a real insight into three generations of women – their differences and parallels. The story also occasionally focuses on Emma’s stepfather, Jack and his input and influence over the women.

I also liked how the painting that featured in the novel was interpreted in many different ways. This really added an extra dimension to the story.

This book really shines a light on what it was like for unmarried mothers in the 1930’s and 1950s and how family dynamics can shape everything.

The characters I felt were well developed. They are flawed, complicated and relatable.

It deals with quite complicated and disturbing themes and I feel it does this well.

There are some truly heartbreaking moments in this novel that made me cry. There are also elements of hope.

The plot is paced well. There is enough tension and mystery and I really didn’t want to put this book down. I was completely engrossed all the way through.

There really isn’t much more I can say without giving huge plot elements away.

The Girl in the Maze is a beautifully crafted, moving story that combines family, love and lost chances. It also has mystery which keeps you guessing.

It shows that we don’t always know everything about our family and how shame, guilt and lack of communication can shape lives forever.
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Betty, her mother, and Emma, her daughter, unravel the story of Margaret in this dual time line novel set in 1937 and the present.  Emma's shocked by the fact that Margaret left the beloved painting Girl in the Maze to someone else and, while cleaning out her mother's things, finally understands not only that decision but a lot more.  There wee some serious family secrets, largely due to attitudes of the time, that colored Margaret and her relationship with Emma.  it's nicely layered tale with strong storytelling and good characters.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  A good read.
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This is a story about three generations of women and it examines societal attitudes towards women and how they comport themselves across the generations. Told principally from the POV of Betty from 1937 onwards and Emma, her granddaughter, in the present day.

Emma’s mother Margaret has just died and Emma is cleaning out her flat. The two had a difficult relationship and were not close for many years. Firstly, the contents of the will surprise Emma. It is not what she expected, particularly the gift of the painting The Girl in the Maze which Emma had always been intrigued by, to a friend of her mother’s rather than the family. She questions the elderly solicitor but he won’t say any more. As she is clearing out the house Emma finds some things, including some letters and a birth certificate which throw a different light onto her understanding of her mother. Again she seeks more information from the solicitor but he tells her that some things are best left in the past.

That is like a red rag to a bull for some people. When Emma finds out she has a sister, albeit one 22 years older than her, she is determined to track her down. In the process she learns some very unpleasant truths. Society’s attitude to unwed teenage mothers have certainly changed over the generations but when Margaret was born it was very much frowned upon and her mother, Betty, had a very difficult time of it until she married James who adopted Margaret as his own when was 3 years old. Yet Margaret also had a difficult path through life which, when Emma finally learns all there is to know about that, explains a lot about her mother’s behaviours.

One of the strong messages in the book is to engage with your family before it is too late. For me it is too late, even though I tried to learn more about some of my family’s history there was an element of secrecy. I vowed to be a lot more open with my own children and have a wonderful relationship with them as a result.

The painting is, I think, used as a device to illustrate that things are not always as they seem and that perception can vary according to who is doing the perceiving. This was a wonderful character study and the book was all about the characters who were richly portrayed. I did enjoy it but didn’t quite engage with it as I would have liked. Thanks to Netgalley and Agora Books for the much appreciated arc which I reviewed voluntarily and honestly. 

3.5 stars rounded down.
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I thought this was an accomplished, emotionally charged novel about family relationships. Spanning three generations, it explores how three women in a family deal with their negative experiences with men and how this affected their relationships with each other. I liked the way that the author unfolded the plots of the three women and I thought the way that she used the motif of the painting of the girl in the maze and the mystery behind it was well done. Although there are three different timelines, the voices of each of the women was distinctive and it didn't become difficult. Some of it, however, is difficult to read due to the subject matter, but this is the kind of book that will make you think.
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The Girl in the Maze is the debut novel of Cathy Hayward and it is so good! This is a story about three women - mothers and daughters - across generations. As the story unfolds, we see how events, circumstance and social mores shape and influence their relationships that reverberate through the decades. 

The novel has a very intense start - be warned there are some triggers in the novel - and the reader is very quickly caught up in the lives of the characters. Told through the eyes of the various women, the novel is well-written, the plot is well-crafted and the storylines of the women are expertly interwoven. I was thoroughly caught up in the lives of these characters. I loved this heartbreaking yet ultimately hopeful story.  A highly recommended read. The Girl in the Maze is out on October 28.

Thanks to Agora Books and Netgalley for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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I loved this book so much! We start in 1937 with Betty and end in 2019 with Emma...BUT there are lots of points of view and timelines along the way. I know it sounds confusing BUT Cathy Hayward seamlessly entwines everything beautifully. The writing style makes you feel like you are reading a diary of these three generation of women and in some parts you are reading letters. I enjoyed the earlier years more than the current ones, but that's just my personal preference of time and place. This was a really sad book for the most part but there is also a lot of hope and even some joy for the future. Not every character was likable but you are given reasons why and it is heartbreaking. Cathy Hayward manages to write about hard hitting subject matter with a delicate hand and writes about mother daughter relationships with insight. This is a wonderful debut and I can't wait to see what Ms. Hayward comes up with next. All. The. Stars.
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The narrative was frightening, tense, emotional, and distressing, but it was a fantastic read about hidden elements in a person's life and how they finally surface - whether purposely or unintentionally. Some things appear to be fate, such as things that should be buried but are dug up and then can't be neatly reburied. From that point forward, everything is disrupted. I didn't think the facts that were suppressed but purposefully exposed served to bring about peace and happiness, at least not in a significant way.
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I had a hard time reading the first few pages of the book, but at the same time, the raw emotion and the horrid events drew me into the story. The Girl in the Maze is a very frank portrayal of a strained mother-daughter relationship. The story wasn't surprising, but it was nuanced and well-written.  I particularly liked the parallels between Emma and her mother and Emma and her daughter and I would've liked to see more of that.
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Is the past best left in the past even if we have questions? This is the conundrum facing Emma Bowen. Her mother Margaret has just died, they had a difficult relationship which Emma has never really understood. Contrary to the last, Margaret’s will is not as Emma expects and she is particularly upset that her mother’s painting The Girl in the Maze is bequeathed to a friend and not to Emma. Whilst clearing out Margaret’s flat Emma discovers letters between Margaret and her mother Betty which will lead to the uncovering of some very uncomfortable secrets. The story is told principally by Emma in 2019 and Betty from 1937. 

This is a very compelling examination of complex relationships, some elements of which are deeply shocking and emotional and it looks at how all this affects family dynamics. There are difficult issues raised which some people will find tough to read as they are unquestionably traumatic. However, the author does a good job of letting the reader know exactly what is happening without being overly gratuitous. These secrets are buried deep for a number of reasons, some of which are psychological, some are to do with society’s judgement and attitudes of the time. The historical context of Betty’s and Margaret’s early stories are very well done and break your heart as parts of it are very harsh. One of the strongest elements centres around Margaret’s painting which she completes in late teenage. The symbolism of it is very powerful and those who gaze into it witness different emotions conveyed by the girl which is very clever. 

Overall, this is a quality piece of writing, it’s very dark in places but it’s also very absorbing. The cover of the book is beautiful. 

With thanks to NetGalley and especially to Agora Books UK for the much appreciated arc in return for an honest review.
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Shocked. Angry. Disturbed. Disgusted. Heartbroken. These are just a few of the emotions that I experienced while reading this book. The Girl in the Maze tells the story of three generations of women who found themselves hurting each other more than helping each other. Maybe if they just listened, their lives would have turned out differently.

Some of the topics covered in The Girl in the Maze are betrayal, denial, family secrets, pedophilia, and rape. There were times when I put the book down because the chapter was too disturbing and upsetting to continue. Because of that, I will not go into the actual story. Instead, I will only write what I think of the author’s writing.

Cathy Hayward uses vivid imagery that takes the reader into Betty, Margaret and Emma’s worlds. Each generation faced its share of troubles and misunderstandings. The feelings of betrayal are so deep in The Girl in the Maze that it is almost impossible for the reader not to become just as angry as Margaret, or just as heartbroken and shocked as Emma. 

When Emma’s mother Margaret dies, Emma discovers secrets that her mother wanted kept secret. When Margaret’s solicitor tells Emma to leave the past in the past, she does not listen. She only realizes why he gave her that advice after it is too late to turn back.

However, through digging into Margaret’s past, Emma gains a better understanding of her mother. Margaret, who Emma thought was just mad all the time, turns out to be so much more than Emma expected. Nonetheless, it was too late to make amends with her mother. Her mother was gone. She died alone with only her solicitor by her side. This is something Emma will always have to live with, along with the secrets Margaret did not want exposed. Emma now bears the burden of keeping her mother’s secrets and doing everything in her power to be there for her daughter and let her daughter know that she is loved always.

The Girl in the Maze is very well written. Cathy Hayward laments that her mother always encouraged her to write a book. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until her mother died that she actually did just that. According to the author, The Girl in the Maze was a kind of therapy that helped her deal with the difficult relationship she had with her own mother. I sincerely hope that The Girl in the Maze is just a fictional story with made-up circumstances and not an autobiographical reflection of what Cathy Hayward discovered after her mother died.

One thing I did take away from The Girl in the Maze is that children should not wait until their parents are dead to really get to know them. Listen to their stories. Learn their histories. Parents have so much to teach us. I am extremely blessed to have been raised in a home with unconditional love. Yes, we had our problems, but I never once doubted whether I was loved. Now that I am and adult, my mother and I are more like best friends. I ask about her childhood and want to know everything she can tell me. I did not do that with my father before he died. The stories of his family I must hear from others. As my children get older, I pray they will want to learn from the stories the adults in their lives can tell them. The Girl in the Maze reminded me of just how incredibly blessed I am. All families have stories. All families have secrets. Don’t wait until it is too late to discover those. 

If you or someone you know is a victim of abuse, please listen and call the abuse hotline in your country.

UK - For information on how you can help or get help, go to
 Domestic abuse: how to get help - GOV.UK (

USA – For information on how you can help or get help, please call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), 
text START to 88788, or visit to chat with someone online.
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A powerful book about a relationship between a mother and daughter. It's hard to read these sometimes. Not because I have a difficult relationship with my own mother, but because I have a good one. 

It's a novel of secrets and terrible events. It's about trauma. It's about difficult decisions. It's about motherhood and choices. 

It's the story of choices and it's beautiful. 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for the opportunity to read and review this book.
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Thank you Agora Books and NetGalley for the e-arc of The Girl in the Maze by Cathy Hayward in exchange for my honest and unbiased review. 

There are some serious triggers in this book that certain readers will want to aware of, including attempted home abortion, infertility, and rape, which are present from the opening scene. 

This is definitely an out of my comfort zone read, which presents in all its starkness a story rife with difficult and challenging maternal relationships, tragedy, lost childhood and heartbreaking family secrets.
The story is written from multiple perspectives, across multiple timelines and truly reflects the time periods referenced. 

The pace of the story is well managed and it doesn’t shy away from some truly discomforting historical aspects, including social treatment of single mothers and legal treatment of women. 

If you are looking for a cross-generational story that delves into dysfunctional maternal relationships, multi-layered betrayal and loss,  then this is the book for you.
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