By Alex Michaelides
February 5, 2019 • 336 pages
Alicia Berenson shoots her husband five times in the face and never speaks again. That is until she is put in the care of Theo Faber, a psychotherapist dedicated to solving the mystery of her self-imposed muteness. The Silent Patient is a mystery novel told from the perspective of Theo, and I was truly conflicted on how to feel about this book. There are so many pros and cons. So many layers.
On one hand…
I was completely engrossed… and grossed out by the protagonist (more on that later). This book is page-turning. I truly was invested in the mystery of it all. The premise itself invites you to wonder why anyone would willfully choose not to talk after killing her husband, which btw, what a privilege to have been put in a mental health facility rather than jail for such a heinous crime.
I enjoy the way Michaelides misdirects you throughout the narrative; how he weaves various perspectives, diary entries, and complex relationships into the story. The twist at the end also surprised me.
Yet, on the other hand…
The whole conclusion doesn’t deliver. Nor do the characters. Theo is SUCH a creep, and I think Michaelides executes his character as such intentionally. Still, I don’t enjoy being in his existential and pretentious mind. He’s too cavalier about his flaws and shortcomings that it comes off extremely arrogant.
“We are drawn to this profession because we are damaged—we study psychology to heal ourselves. Whether we are prepared to admit this or not is another question.”(Theo, pg. 17)
And my disdain for him only grows as the novel progresses. In fact, all of the therapists in the book give me the ICK. Diomedes, the head of institute, is really just a vehicle for deus ex machina cause what actual director would approve of anything Theo tries to do in the novel? The way patients are regarded is also sad to read, as most are treated with apathy or lack of care. The psychologists in the novel felt more like babysitters than actual intelligent health professionals.
Alicia also feels like a wasted character. I was rooting for her! She has so much potential, but I cannot connect to her as a person. She feels too cliché. Like the type of character you’d stereotype into a mental health facility–a privileged painter obsessed with her unfaithful husband who allows things to happen to her rather than her taking control. Everyone in her family also feels cliché–the hateful aunt, the cousin who gambles too much, the absent and resentful father, the husband that’s too perfect.
I feel strongly about her character because I’m more critical of the way many female characters are written in novels, especially novels by men. Alicia’s silence is the most captivating thing about her (sadly) yet the reason for her muteness is unsatisfying. It’s almost like… that’s it? She has so much potential yet was disserviced in the execution. Despite all that, I will say I was proud of her for taking action at the end of the novel. Still, it was too late for me.
Moreover, while I applaud the use of red-herrings, they feel empty once you receive all the answers to your questions. All the sub-plots and side conversations meant to have the reader confused become irrelevant. Overdone. Just pages meant solely for the use of misdirection, rather than any actual relevance to the storyline or the characters.
Overall, this book has good writing, mediocre characters, and an okay execution for an otherwise great premise. One thing I will say is that it does bring the fallibility of humanity to the fore. No one is exempt from human error.
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