The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides is a murder mystery.
2 out of 10 stars. The author uses too many gimmicks to drag the reader along and spring the surprise ending.
The Silent Patient is the story of Alicia Berenson, famous painter and wife of famous photographer, Gabriel Berenson. To everyone theirs is an idyllic marriage and an idyllic life. No one really knows the truth about their marriage, least of all Alicia. Until one night when a strange man breaks into her home and ties her up, waiting for her husband to come home. Then Alicia learns firsthand exactly what their marriage is–farce. Alicia kills her husband and never utters another word.
Seven years later, psychotherapist Theo Faber gets an opportunity to work with Alicia when a job opens up at The Grove, the famous facility where Alicia is a patient. Within twenty-four hours of arriving at The Grove Theo is already appointed her therapist. Slowly he gets Alicia to trust him, then finally she gives him her diary.
Intermingled with the chapters about Theo’s work with Alicia are chapters about his personal life, a dramatic turn in his marriage which took place seven years ago, at the same time that Alicia was being stalked. Unfortunately, these chapters are told as though they are taking place in the present. That Gabriel’s murder and the disintegration of Theo’s marriage occurred at the same time seven years ago is no coincidence. They are linked.
SPOILER: It’s difficult to explain the faults with this novel without revealing the ending. Theo had an abusive childhood and as an adult became addicted to marijuana. So one evening he lights up a joint, smokes it, then discovers his actress wife Kathy has left out her laptop and it’s open to her email account in which she has been sexting her lover. Theo follows her and eventually she leads him directly to the wooded area of the park where she has sex with her lover. The second time Theo follows Kathy he waits until they are finished and follows her lover, only to discover he’s married as well, to Alicia. Over the next few weeks, Theo will try repeatedly to warn Alicia that her husband is cheating on her, but the longer it takes, the more unhinged he becomes until finally he breaks into her home and ties her up. Then he waits for her husband to come home. When Gabriel arrives, he ties him up too and gives Gabriel a choice–he can die or Alicia can die. It’s Gabriel’s choice and Gabriel chooses Alicia to die. That pivotal moment changes Alicia and triggers a memory from her past. (You’ll have to read the book to find out what that was.)
One of the first rules that an author must learn is their promise to the reader. The most crucial component of that promise is that they be given all of the information as it’s available. In this novel, the author chose deliberately to mislead the reader into thinking that the chapters about Theo’s wife Kathy’s affair was in the present when in fact it was in the past leading up to the time Gabriel was murdered. Their affair was the inciting event. But, of course, that would’ve been a short and predictable story.
The forensic information and circumstances of the murder are also deliberately left out of the novel lest they give away the fact that someone else was there with Alicia. She was, in fact, tied up with wire that cut into her skin.
Another gimmick the author used were diary entries from Alicia’s diary. These are revealed before Alicia gives the diary to Theo. This may build suspense, but it’s incredibly awkward since we read some BEFORE she gives Theo her diary and the rest AFTER. This is presumably to keep the reader from being bored, but once you hit the chapter where Alicia gives Theo her diary, it really is awkward.
The author’s writing style is easy to read. It’s not verbose or full of purple prose as most authors today fill the pages to get a bigger paycheck. But after the initial shock of the ending played out I felt cheated. It’s like playing a chess game without the rooks and only being told in the last few steps that they were removed without your knowledge.
It wasn’t just the way the timeline changed without warning or the facts about the murder that were omitted until the very end, but also the dramatic change in Theo’s personality at the end of the novel. He literally was a completely different person. If he could change this dramatically so quickly there should’ve been hints of this a lot sooner.
2 out of 10 stars. I wouldn’t recommend this novel.