Book Review: The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides – A Mediocre Read that Blends Psychological Mystery with Greek Tragedy

Growing up reading celebrated mysteries by novelists like Agatha Cristie, Arthur Conan Doyle and Daphne du Maurier, lovers of the genre are difficult to be satisfied by anything mediocre. I belong to the same group and so when I was recommended The Silent Patient by a friend, the bar was already set high and I had mixed feelings about going ahead with it. Nevertheless, I ignored the doubts and thought of giving the book a chance to mess around with my head.

What is it About?

The Silent Patient, in simple words, is the story about a certain famous Painter Alicia Berenson who shoots her husband, Gabriel Berenson, 5 times in the head before slitting her wrists and going silent for 6 years. She is caught red-handed and due to her mental condition, is transferred to a psychiatric facility called The Grove. The life of Alicia before she takes the Oath of Silence is beautifully portrayed through her Diary wherein she gives the picturesque version of the life she was living.

Another protagonist of our story is Theo Faber, a psychotherapist hell-bent at discovering the mystery behind the murder and making Alicia speak again. Theo himself has undergone 2 decades for intense psychotherapy thanks to an abusive father and grief-stricken mother. In Theo’s journey of unravelling the mystery, we come across a multitude of characters like Alicia’s friend and gallerist – Jean-Felix, her brother in law –Max Berenson, Theo’s wife – Kathy, Clinical Director of the Grove – Professor Lazarus Diomedes, Theo’s nemesis and colleague Dr Christian West, Alicia’s man-child cousin – Paul Rose, Paul’s ill-tempered maniac mother, Lydia Rose. These are still some important ones which I might have missed out on. Nevertheless, these were the most essential ones.

Why you should read the book?

Well, the book is for sure a page-turner that will make you anxious, thrilled and anticipate the climax in a hundred possible ways. The author Alex Michaelides beautifully conjoins themes of unrequited childhood love and parental abuse with a mutilated and mangled psyche in adulthood and how this unholy union brings forth a storm so violent and bloody that it is impossible to backtrack without losing something forever. Also, the juxtaposition of Art Psychology with the Greek Tragedy of Alcestis tugged at my heartstrings.

“…we often mistake love for fireworks – for drama and dysfunction. But real love is very quiet, very still. It’s boring, if seen from the perspective of high drama. Love is deep and calm – and constant.”

One of the quotes from the book

Apart from certain cliched character development, I adored the way Alicia’s personality and psyche were sketched right from her happy days to the days before and after the murder. She was convincing in all aspects and I could picturise her mental agony, confusion and distress while also identifying with her ‘Melancholy in Art‘ style. Her psychology is gripping from the first page and it stays that way right through the end.

The writing style seems linear towards the beginning but as you keep turning pages, you get more and more perplexed and confused at what to believe and what not to. In some sections, the prose style is engaging and keeps you hooked. I would recommend the book if you are hands down a lover of all kinds of psychological thrillers.

What could have been better?

Let me first confess that I got absorbed into every page but as an honest reviewer and an avid reader I should point the inherent flaws that might be crucial for some before they set out on this caravan of a conundrum.

For any thriller to get etched in the minds of its readers, the Climax has to be explosive and unforeseeable. Unfortunately, the half baked characterisation and writing made the ending predictable. Also as pointed out earlier there is a lot of cliche driven character development. While some important ones like Alicia’s cousin Paul or Theo’s confidante at The Grove, Yuri are sophomoric, principal characters like Theo, Max, Jean-Felix and Diomedes are all filled with a lot of banality and some are just dark characters with no redemption quality whatsoever.

Theo, for example, was such an unconvincing character that more than a psychotherapist it kept bugging me that maybe he was a patient at the Grove. Trust me that would have made a much better Climax. No doubt all the damage he had endured made him what he was but the kind of intense and lopsided relationship he had with Alicia, made him less of a psychotherapist and more of a lover. He had no objective behaviour or POV when it came to Alicia. Towards the end, he just seemed shallow and selfish. (The climax would make this point clearer).

The writing style especially adopted in Alicia’s Diary was commonplace devoid of any hidden symbology and in no way looked like the work of a mentally sick person hassling on being a Borderline patient. It felt unnerving and stupid and plain. While some deep quotes made about love and life made me happy, most part was hurried and comprised certain phrasal mistakes. Too explanatory, little left for imagination, plain, cliched and unconvincing; this is what sums up the totality of the book concerning its language and style.

Final Verdict

I am not saying that the book isn’t good for a one-time quick read. But if you have great expectations about the book doing groundbreaking work in slicing off themes about psychology, art, murder and putting forth the same on a grand canvas; then the book will disappoint. But I can be wrong. Maybe, you wouldn’t find so many issues as I did and might even get startled by the Climax.

Reading is a personal journey and no one can do it for you. So if you are an avid reader and do not mind gambling a bit, please move ahead and give The Silent Patient a try.

Click here to read The Silent Patient on Amazon Kindle now.

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