Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Freida McFadden is a singular voice in the psychological thriller genre, able to concoct extravagant and offbeat scenarios almost faster than we can read them. In her latest offering, titled The Housemaid, she tells the story of Millie, a recently-paroled woman who takes on a live-in job out of pure necessity, in spite of the torment it might bring her. As the days go by her mistress seems to become increasingly unhinged, the strange occurrences multiply, and it seems to Millie as if she might have to bring her dark past back to life in order to survive the ordeal.
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Freida McFadden Locks Us in the House
Our proximity to our neighbours make us certain we can ascertain whether or not they are committing some terrible crimes within the confines of their own homes. While most of us might indeed be law-abiding citizens, there are numerous enough cases throughout history of people turning their houses into dens of evil that we must admit one thing: we don’t truly know what our neighbours are up to. In Freida McFadden‘s latest psychological thriller, The Housemaid, we land into such a dwelling, perfectly normal on the outside, but hiding terrible secrets within.
The story begins by introducing us to one of the two main characters through whose eyes the story is told: the recently-paroled Millie. For understandable reasons, finding employment has become quite difficult for her and she can’t afford to be picky with the jobs coming her way. It seems as if fortune suddenly favours her when she is hired to work as a live-in housemaid at the Winchester residence.
What at first seemed like a blessing slowly turns into something akin to a living nightmare. Her mistress Nina, our second main character, seems to take delight in driving her insane, apparently creating messes only to watch Millie clean them up. What’s more, she keeps telling strange lies about her own nine-year-old daughter Cecelia, all while driving her husband Andrew to the brink of total despair.
Despite the unusually ominous circumstances surrounding her, Millie keeps on working at the house, enduring all the humiliation, trying to rebuild her life one brick at a time. One evening, she wears one of Nina’s pristine white dresses in an attempt to imagine what it would be like in her skin, a cardinal sin which sets in motion a chain of events threatening to upstage the overtly-perfect existence of the Winchesters.
As Nina ups the ante in an attempt to drive Millie into total despair and insanity, the latter isn’t ready to go down without a fight. As a matter of fact, she has a bit of a trump card up her sleeve, one she was hoping never to reveal again. The Winchesters don’t truly know who she is or what she’s capable of, and she’s about to show them how deep her claws can really cut.
The Complex Rivalries of The Housemaid
If there’s one thing the vast majority of thrillers have in common, it’s their clear designations of the various characters. The protagonists, even if they are flawed in various ways, are invariably the good guys, while the villains are precisely-identified and written in such a way as to draw our ire towards them, respecting classic conventions.
In The Housemaid, Freida McFadden accomplishes a feat which I’m prepared to qualify as relatively rare: she makes it difficult to decide who to actually root for. The story begins by introducing us to Millie, making us think she will undoubtedly be the victim fighting back against her insidious aggressor. However, pretty soon the rug is pulled out from under us with the introduction of Nina as another main character.
The more we learn about the two women, the more their inner worlds become nuanced, and the more difficult it becomes to accurately determine who’s really good and bad between the two of them. They both have their reasons for doing what they do, as well as their fare share of skeletons buried in their personal graveyards. Funnily enough, it almost seems like the more they clash against each other, the more their similarities become unveiled.
Though he might be relegated to more of a secondary role with no chapters dedicated to him, Andrew Winchester still remains an integral piece of the puzzle, and his presence in the story is often used to maximum effect. As a matter of fact, I’d say he too is a main character, adding another layer of complexity to the dynamics between the inhabitants of the house.
I think it’s fair to say the bulk of the novel focuses on the relationships between these three people, highly dysfunctional and tormented in their own ways. At times humorous and at other times quite dreadful and worrying, the interactions they have with each other are what moves the story forward and, personally-speaking, I never got tired of witnessing them.
House of Twists and Bends
With the heavy emphasis placed by the author on the psychological aspect of this novel, you might assume there would be little room left to make a thriller out of it. However, Freida McFadden manages to challenge expectations, making The Housemaid one of the more agitated and nail-biting thrillers I’ve had the pleasure of reading recently.
McFadden knows exactly how to consistently raise the stakes in her novel, always keeping them in sight and never letting us forget the seemingly constant danger our characters are in. The fact she found a way to make two cunning enemies inhabit the same house only benefits the plot, doing wonders in maintaining a tense atmosphere with little room for respite.
I will concede the first half of the book does move a little more slowly, largely to give the author the chance to drum up the mystery to her liking, to leave clues laying about for our benefit, and naturally, to create expectations which will subsequently be shattered. The author obviously takes great pleasure in misdirecting her readers and getting them caught up on red herrings, to the point where it felt as if she was challenging me directly.
When the second half of the book comes around the air of mystery begins to dissipate a bit by bit, leaving in its stead a clearer sense of danger. While it is impossibly difficult to compensate for what is lost when an enigma is solved, the author does a great job of ensuring it naturally leads to a better understanding of the peril our characters are in, consequently raising the threat level by increments until the climax.
The ending itself also didn’t disappoint in the slightest, leaving me with a feeling of satisfaction with events having taken their realistic course. I think few are the authors out there who could conclude such a complicated story with so many moving parts in a fulfilling manner leaving no loose threads hanging, but Freida McFadden has proven herself to be one of them.
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The Final Verdict
The Housemaid by Freida McFadden is a riveting and unconventional psychological thriller, constantly keeping us guessing about the true intentions of the main characters, subverting our expectations masterfully at every turn, and taking us on a wild ride into the heart of a home corrupted by evil.
If you’re a fan of thrillers capable of keeping you guessing and on your toes from start to finish, then this novel is definitely one which belongs in your collection.
Freida McFadden is an American author and practicing physician who specializes in the field of brain injury. She has written a number of bestselling psychological and medical thrillers, as well as some more lighthearted and humorous books. Her works include The Perfect Son, The Locked Door, The Wife Upstairs and One by One.