Book Review: The Silent Patient, Alex Michaelides

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A mentally unstable murderer, who has chosen to remain silent follow her unspeakable crime. A brash young psychotherapist, fascinated by the silent patient, determined to be the one to get through to her. Does your past truly define who you become in life?

Alicia Berenson is happily married to Gabriel, a high-profile photographer, living in a hip part of London. Alicia’s paintings are starting to become noticed in the art scene and life is on the up for the young couple. The troubles of her past seem long behind her. Soon, she starts to notice a man standing outside her house and begins to fear she is being watched – possibly by someone who means to harm her. Despite her best efforts of persuasion, no one believes her – not even her husband, who insists her mental episodes are relapsing and advises her to see a therapist. Not long after, Alicia brutally murders her husband in their living room, shooting him five times in the face as he is tied to a kitchen chair. Then, Alicia never says another word. Her silence stuns the world, with the mystery of the domestic tragedy deepening with every unspoken word. For six years this continues – yet as each day passes the truth remains elusive. No one is more enthralled with Alicia and her story than Theo Faber, the young psychotherapist who takes a new position at famed mental institution, The Grove, to begin his work with Alicia. On Theo and Alicia’s first meeting, it does not go well – Alicia attacks Theo and it seems as though the diagnosis of criminally insane is just. However Theo does not give up. He pursues the truth about Alicia, digging into her past and uncovering secrets which may reveal the real story about the events. As he does, he reveals more and more about his own past, and is forced to face his own demons head on.

Theo Faber is a great central character. There’s a lot of depth to his arc, weaving through his triumphs and successes as a glorified psychotherapist, to his childhood struggles with his father and across to his current personal conflicts – leaving us to wonder who exactly the outcome of this story is more cathartic for. We’re empathetic towards Theo, we believe in him and his quest to get Alicia to speak – we’re with him throughout.

Alicia is the ultimate anti-hero. Is she crazy and delusional as she has been diagnosed to be? Is she innocent, and if she is why didn’t she try and defend herself? Either way, in the same way as Theo, we’re with her and her story.

A supporting cast of characters only adds to the mysteries as to what happens. Crooked doctors, lying relatives, meddling neighbours, untrustworthy art exhibitionists and an array of others help to bring things to a head as we finally understand the real truth. Who has Alicia’s best interests at heart, and who wants to destroy her?

Boy, oh boy. This is a cracking good read. A brilliant psychological thriller that has one of the most shocking twists I’ve ever read. I was genuinely surprised at how this turned out. Like a good thriller should, we were given plenty of options as to where the story would take us, and then we were completely blind-sided – and believe me when I say it’s an absolute doozy. The kind of twist where you need to pause for a few moments before turning the page to collect your thoughts, as if it were impossible to receive any more information at that point. After finishing the book, I seriously contemplating flicking to the front and starting again, it was that good.

Alex Michaelidis has delivered a stunning piece of fiction – one that is gathering acclaim all over. It’s a remarkable debut novel, and I can’t wait to see what’s next. The way he was able to continually interlock the various sub-plots and deliver us a fast-paced mystery before turning everything on it’s head was truly enjoyable. This is a must read.

4.7/5

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