The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides: A review

I have resisted reading this book as it has solidified its spot on the best sellers list over several weeks. Something about the description of the plot just put me off. But the book kept nagging at me and finally I surrendered. Take me, Alex Michaelides, I am yours.

And actually, it wasn't bad. 

The plot briefly is this: Alicia Berenson, a well-known artist, has been convicted of killing her husband, Gabriel, a fashion photographer. Gabriel was bound to a chair and then shot in the face five times. Afterward, Alicia slashed her wrists and thus they were discovered - the dead body of Gabriel and Alicia bleeding profusely. 

There was never any question that Alicia had committed the murder, although a motive was apparently never identified. The investigation and the trial were complicated by the fact that the accused murderer either refused or was unable to speak. Now it is several years later. Alicia has spent those years in an institution for the mentally ill and during that time despite the best efforts of her doctors, she has not spoken a word.

Enter psychotherapist Theo Faber. He has been employed at another facility but he is aware of Alicia's case and is fascinated by it. When the opportunity comes to accept a position at The Grove, the place where Alicia is housed, he jumps at the chance.  He is assigned to work with her and he begins the process, seeing no change in her behavior at first. But gradually he makes a connection with her and sees that he is making progress, although she still doesn't speak.

The narrative switches to the background of Theo's marriage, which he had thought was a happy one. But then he discovers that his wife, an actress, is having an affair. He becomes a stalker of her lover and finds where he lives, learning that he, too, is married.

The narrative is quite ambiguous regarding the timeframes of these two storylines and you have to read until almost the end of the book to see the connection in what is billed as a "shocking twist". Well, I admit it was unexpected although I recognized at least one big hole in the plot early on. Namely, Gabriel had been tied in a chair before being shot. Exactly how did Alicia manage to overpower him and do that? Why did the police apparently not question that? It just didn't make sense to me. There were other less obvious things that didn't add up as well. Let's just say the plot is porous.

One feels empathy for Alicia lost in her silent world and viewed as a challenge to be conquered by her psychotherapist. Theo, on the other hand, did not engage my sympathies. I questioned his motives from the first and found him to be quite self-serving in his actions. He is our main source for the story and he gives new meaning to the term "unreliable narrator". The other characters in the book are underdeveloped and not particularly memorable.

This was Alex Michaelides' first novel. He had previously written for films. It is a promising start, a good idea for a psychological thriller that was just a bit sloppy in the execution. But, on the whole, not a bad book. I wavered between a three-star and four-star rating for it and, of course, in the end, I decided to be generous.  

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Comments

  1. I bet I can guess the 'surprising twist' from your review...But I don't want to possibly spoil it for others!

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    1. I try not to give away too much in my plot synopses and it is sometimes a challenge.

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    2. I don't think you have given too much away, I have just read some novels recently that had 'twists' and involved parallel and non-parallel timelines, so some of your statements have me trying to put all the pieces together!

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  2. The plot sounds interesting and engaging. I think that I would find a major character who was silent and uncommunicative frustrating in a good way.

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    Replies
    1. Alicia was actually a fascinating character, the strongest in the book in spite of her lack of words.

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  3. We listened to the audio version and enjoyed it a lot.

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    Replies
    1. I can see how an audio version might play well, especially with a good narrator.

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  4. I think Judy didn't care for this one .... but your review has made me think it'd make for a good audio listen. So I've put it back on my list. I remember it was really popular when it came out ....

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    1. I think it might actually work better as an audio book. I was, in fact, less than blown away by the writing, although I thought the concept was an interesting one.

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  5. I think I guessed the connection, though I may be wrong. If you are pointing a weapon to a person you can make him sit and go from there, I guess, so I can believe that part, considering the plot holes don't get any bigger.

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    Replies
    1. There is a twist and a surprise at the end that sort of explains why the holes were left.

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  6. You were more generous than I was-:)

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