One of my first reviews here will be for a little book called THE SILENT PATIENT by Alex Michaelides, and honestly, if you haven’t already heard of this book, you’ve been living under a rock. It’s Michaelides’s debut novel, it was the #1 New York Times Bestseller of Hardcover Fiction in its first week after publication, and was the #2 most sold for 2019 on Amazon.com‘s list of Most Sold Books in fiction. if you’re a GoodReads fan (I am, so please look me up if you have a profile), it also won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Mystery & Thriller of 2019.
So, in case you somehow haven’t heard of this book, allow me to sum it up for you as best I can without giving away anything. Our viewpoint character is Dr. Theo Faber, a criminal psychotherapist living in London. Our story begins with him obsessing over the case of famous painter Alicia Berenson who, get this, shot and killed her husband, Gabriel, then completely stopped talking. About six years after her trial and relative infamy, Theo is able to acquire a job at the Grove, the mental hospital in which she has been placed. In all these years, Alicia has been utterly silent—the silent patient. Determined to help her, Theo becomes her attending psychotherapist, and that’s all I can tell you.
Just from that set-up, you can tell this is a mystery-thriller novel, with some phycological suspense roped in as well.
What almost every review I’ve read mentions about this novel is its twist, which I admit, is pretty epic. However, critics’ constant focus on the twist almost prevented me from reading this book. You see, before I read this, I’d just finished another novel that was all about that twist ending, and I was not happy with that other novel because it sacrificed essential character building for the sake of a surprise ending. I read novels to get to know characters, to get into the mind of someone who’s not me. Do I like it when they surprise me? Of course, but only if I’m attached enough to the characters to make the surprise worthwhile.
That said, my absolute favorite thing about this novel was the characterization. From the moment I was introduced to Theo, I felt like he was the type of guy I wanted to know. He was personable, and he seemed to honestly want to help Alicia, this stranger he barely knew. His relationship with his wife, Kathy, is at once incredibly romantic and also realistic—until it’s not.
Then there is the character of Alicia who does not spend a lot of active time in the novel. In fact, we mostly just see her from Theo’s point of view as he is the point of view character. However, there is no doubt that she is the heart of this story. As a reader, I felt for her and her situation. She is a character who struggles with her mental health in a way that is realistic and heart wrenching, and it’s refreshing to see that in any work of fiction.
I love Alicia. She deserves all the love in the world. in fact, I would argue that most of what this book is about is two people trying to find love. It’s not a classical romance by any means, but it’s love in the every day sense, whether it’s familiar love or romantic love, they’re looking for it, and isn’t that something every human being can relate to? I think so.
Overall, I would say that THE SILENT PATIENT definitely lives up to the hype. Since the author has already written some marginally successful screenplays, I’m hoping for the movie.