Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.
Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.
Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations—a search for the truth that threatens to consume him…
The story concerns Theo, a psychotherapist with ambition, who takes a job in a psychiatric unit in order to closely observe one of its residents, Alicia, with the hopes of healing her. Alicia hasn’t uttered a word in seven years, since the night she brutally murdered her husband, for what reason, no one knows. Why won’t Alicia speak? And what really happened the night her husband was murdered?
This book had promise, but unfortunately, it didn’t fully deliver.
This is genuinely meant with no amount of sarcasm, but this book takes the definition of a “psychological” thriller to a new level. I found the book’s use of and reliance on the subject of psychology quite heavy, labouring on the importance of childhood, the unconscious mind, the importance of professional conduct, too much. After a couple of explanations to support the story, anytime psychological explanations were mentioned afterward, it felt like I was back in school, having to endure a lecture full of repetition. Moreover, I felt it prevented the story from flowing easily.
The book’s structure split between Theo’s perspective and Alicia’s perspective (through her diary). The pace of the book was sluggish, and this was only alleviated when something interesting happened with the plot, or the narrative changed to another character, thereby shaking up the structure, like turning onto a new road. It wasn’t until I had read 40% I felt mildly engaged with the book. And it wasn’t until I had reached 70%, that the book became a real page-turner.
The characters in The Silent Patient were interesting. Theo was likeable enough, and had his own personal issues that established why he was psychotherapist and so on.
However, Theo’s relationship with Kathy felt like a forced sub-plot to provide the book with more plot, and the character with more background. I didn’t enjoy reading about Kathy, nor did I really care about their relationship. I empathised with Theo and his relationship problems, but felt the relationship was laboured on too much, especially when it didn’t appear to be relevant to the central story.
I really liked Alicia’s story, and loved the amount of detail that was given to her profession as an artist. I felt it really complimented the storyline of The Silent Patient, and how artwork is a mystery that is typically interpreted differently by everyone. How can you guess what a silent woman is thinking? Versus, what was the artist’s meaning in this painting? As well, I liked that the reader discovered Alicia’s history alongside Theo. The chapters that were of Alicia’s diary allowed me to get a sense of the character, and I quite liked her. It made me wonder what could have happened to that poor woman, for her life to become such a tragedy.
I love a good mystery, and The Silent Patient definitely delivered a mystery I wanted to get to the bottom of. However, I predicted the big reveal, because I realised there was too much forced focus on sub-plots, for them not to be connected. I felt the payoff didn’t merit the endurance of reading such a slow-paced book. Honestly, I was relieved to finish it. The premise of the story was clever and had potential, but was executed in a manner that was disappointing and non-engaging. I felt the end of the story was unsatisfying and rushed.
I’ve rated this 2 stars on goodreads purely for the idea of the story and the connection I felt toward Alicia. To me, a story with the angle that this book took, would have been better as a screenplay, and I genuinely think it would have been more successful that way too.
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Published 5th February 2019
Genre: psychological thriller, thriller, mystery, suspense
*Thank you kindly to Netgalley and the publishers for providing me with an e-copy, in exchange for this honest review.