Book Review: The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Title: The Silent Patient
Author: Alex Michaelides
Publisher: Celadon Books
Publication date: August 18, 2020
Print length: 325 pages
Genre: Thriller
Source: Purchased

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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’ll be blunt — this book annoyed the hell out of me. It’s super hyped, has tons of buzz, and I have friends who’ve insisted that I just had to read it. When my book club picked it as our August book, I knew my time had come.

In brief, this is a psychological thriller about Alicia, a woman who was convicted of murdering her husband and has been confined to a mental institution ever since. From the time she was discovered near her husband’s bloody body, she hasn’t spoken a word. Alicia, a talented artist, made only one communication since Gabriel’s death — a self-portrait, with the mysterious word “Alcestis” written at the bottom.

Theo Faber is a psychotherapist who became fascinated by Alicia’s story and the ensuing notoriety. Years later, he has the opportunity to work at the hospital where she’s a patient, and there he dives into her case, determined to understand why she hasn’t spoken in six years.

From the start, I was annoyed by Theo, and because he’s our point of view character, I felt impatient with the book as a whole. Theo overcame a horrible childhood to achieve professional success, and yet from the moment he transfers to the Grove, he seems to be flouting every rule of professionalism in his obsession with uncovering Alicia’s secrets.

It’s clear that there’s more to the story of the murder than what people accept as the truth. As Theo digs, several potentially shady people emerge as either witnesses or possibly perpetrators of some terrible acts. Aaaaaand… I won’t say too much more about the plot.

The resolution to the mystery took me by surprise, but I felt that the author only managed to achieve this through some sleight-of-hand involving the plot timelines that left me feeling manipulated, rather than pleasantly shocked by the cleverness of it all.

Theo’s actions often make no sense in the big picture, and I’m not sure that I buy the crime scene set-up and explanation as presented either. Yes, it’s twisty and full of unexpected revelations, but I felt too often that I was being “handled”.

I know I’m in the minority on this one. My book group seems to have loved The Silent Patient, and so did my husband and a few other friends. It’s a very quick read, and I was never bored — I think I tore through this book in about a day and a half, and reached a point where I couldn’t put it down.

So yes, it’s an absorbing read and I needed to keep going once I started. But something about it doesn’t sit well with me, and that’s why I gave it three stars.

15 thoughts on “Book Review: The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

  1. It’s always strange when loads of people rave about a book and you read it and are just like Huh? I’m definitely the type where if I don’t like the character, it really puts me off, so I think I’d be with you on this one. Slight of hand doesn’t count as a clever plot. I’m sorry this let you down – and hope your next is better!

  2. Hi Lisa, oh I’m sorry you didn’t like The Silent Patient! I did like it, but we can’t like everything we read, even when everyone else seems to love a certain book. On to the next read!

      • I finished it within a few days although I thought it was slow to start with. The twist will certainly be a good discussion point at book club. Personally I can not get the logic of why he thought the whole tie them up scenario would help A. But maybe that is the point that he was just mad and there was not really logic to it.

  3. I’m so sorry you didn’t like the book! I totally agree with you about all the hype. It’s just so.. hype. I understand how some readers are enthralled by this book. I have read this one and I really like it but not to the point of loving it to the edge.

  4. Having recently finished this book, I’ve been scouring other recent reviews (as is my wont) and came upon this. I fall into the majority of folks that liked the book. Though our appraisals are very different Lisa, I understand why you didn’t like it—that feeling of being tricked…manipulated…unfairly. I perceived the plot twist as a sleight of hand but entirely legitimate.

    My own review here if you’d care to read is here:

    Wish you good luck in your current reads: quite the day in SF to be indoors curled with a book.

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