Berkshire Eagle Book Club

Our reviews: 'The Silent Patient'

Posted

The Book: "The Silent Patient" by Alex Michaelides

Publisher: Celadon Books; First Edition edition (Feb. 5, 2019)

The Synopsis: 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.

I can't say I disliked 'The Silent Patient" by Alex Michaelides, but I can't give it a glowing review either. It was a page-turner and kept my interest, although about 50 pages in I suspected how the book was going to end. The book starts out slow and I had to push myself to continue reading, but the pace accelerated by Part Two. My problem lay with the narrator, Theo Faber, who I didn't like from the first page. He is obsessed with Alicia (the actual "silent patient") and is determined to be the therapist who breaks through to her and gets her to speak for the first time since she killed her husband. He feels she is someone he needs to look after and heal — his own personal damsel in distress. In the process, he breaks every professional rule about dealing with patients. To be honest, none of the characters were fully developed and I found it hard to care about any of them, one way or another. All that being said, it was an OK read, one I did in a weekend.

— Margaret Button, associate features editor

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I was prepared to give this book a poor review until the end. There's a real twist that compensates for some of the novel's shortcomings. (It's difficult to describe without some major spoilers.) Until that point, I found the narrator, a psychotherapist, to be rather obnoxious and the plot to drag a bit for a thriller. You know that the "silent patient" is going to speak at some point; a more interesting book might have explored that moment earlier on. In fact, for much of the story, I felt that this novel might have worked better as a short story or, given its dialogue-heavy chapters, as a film. Ultimately (and ironically), this psychological thriller doesn't probe enough into the mental depths of these characters, the great advantage of fiction.

— Benjamin Cassidy, arts and entertainment reporter

Alex Michaelides' "The Silent Patient," follows psychotherapist Theo Faber on a one-man quest to "save the girl" (Alicia Berenson), ultimately by solving the mystery of the murder of her husband and Alicia's ensuing muteness, rather than by providing any sort of quality health care. The main character of this novel is so distinctly unlikeable as to make me pessimistic from the start — in a general way that manifested in the doubt that I'd get any sort of payoff as a reader, as one expects from a mystery — and specifically, in a way that caused me to question whether the main character was supposed to be so repugnant to me, whether the author was even aware of it, or if he was aware of it and using Theo's awfulness intentionally and for thematic purposes. After getting to the twist, it is clear Michaelides purposefully made this character hateable for reasons only knowable when you get to the end. Still, there have been main characters in books I've read that were awful and hateable, but I loved the book, and then there's this one. Also, it is petty, but while I found the inclusion of Alicia's diary entries interesting, and a way to create a time shift that added a definite forward motion to the text, no one writes in their journal as if they are writing a novel. I know what these entries were supposed to do, and they do succeed, but they detract from the believability of the text and pull the reader out of the mystery by reminding them they are reading. Finally, without giving too much away about the "surprise ending": My reaction was not "Wow! Didn't see that coming!" but "Ugh, are you kidding me?" I'll be glad, when I see this book on a book rec list a few years from now, to know why people were talking about it, and that's the only reason I don't regret the little time I gave it. Alex Michaelides "The Silent Patient," is, to be fair, a page-turning mystery, recently released and ready for the beach bag. There are more than a few issues, but maybe not enough to deter someone who's looking for this type of read, and since this is a book people are talking about right now, and one that has a bit of a twist ending (whatever I thought of it), it may be worth picking up, just to keep ahead of the spoiler tide.

— Meggie Baker, calendar editor

While psychological thrillers aren't normally my thing (remember me, the lover of the "mom-oir"?) I do like to pick up one a summer, usually the one that everyone is talking about. "The Silent Patient" is that book of 2019, similar to books like "Gone Girl" and "The Girl on the Train." While I generally enjoyed the latter two books, I can't say the same for Alex Michaelides' "The Silent Patient." Unlike my co-workers, I didn't see the ending coming (probably because I don't read many books like this), and it was enough of a twist to almost save the book for me. I was so shocked, I actually stared at the page with my mouth open for a few seconds. But in the end, I just couldn't get past how much I detested the know-it-all narrator and his holier-than-thou approach to "saving" his patient. If you're going on vacation and you need a quick read — and if you're gullible like me and won't see the plot twist coming — you'll probably be happy packing this one in your carry-on bag. Just don't expect the same page-turning pace of thrillers of summers past.

Lindsey Hollenbaugh, managing editor of features


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