The Silent Patient
by Alex Michaelides
Hardcover, 325 pages
February 5, 2019, Celadon Books
The Silent Patient opens with an alluring premise: a beautiful, successful painter lives a perfect life with the man she loves…until the day he comes home late from a photo shoot and she shoots him five times in the face before calling the police and never speaking another word. Theo is a forensic psychologist who has waited a long time to work with “the silent patient” as Alicia is dubbed by the press and is unprepared for what happens next.
This debut novel is worth every bit of praise it receives and more. It’s marketed as a psychological thriller – and it is – but it’s also more than that. It’s a character study of both the woman convicted of murdering her husband and the psychologist who is obsessed with her story. As Michaelides builds his characters he’s also breaking them down, revealing their fears, their biases, their motivations, and their plans to the reader, at times making them more unreliable as the book progresses. He pulls you into the story with the promise of revealing Alicia to the reader – a character that is simultaneously out of reach and omnipresent, coloring every interaction the other characters have with one another. We don’t get to know her initially other than descriptions of her physical appearance and her art. In contrast, Theo seems to expose himself fully to the reader while actually keeping himself at arm’s length. This journey to understand these two characters is really what draws in the reader and is more important than almost anything that happens in the book.
Short chapters and strong, straightforward prose propel the reader through the story at a fast pace. The chapters alternate between points of view, allowing ever-more-revealing glimpses into what is really going on in the minds of the characters. The alternating points of view, as well as the use of multiple timelines, allow Michaelides certain liberties with the plot that moved this book from simply compulsively readable to jaw-dropping. The complexity of the plot blew me away and it’s not until the final pages that the full force of what he’s done is revealed. I love a good twist but I don’t like being tricked. This “twist” was 100% fair play and I kicked myself for having fallen for the trap Michaelides had so expertly laid.
This book has already been optioned for film rights and I cannot wait to see what it looks like on the big screen. I’ll be eagerly awaiting Michaelides next book and, in the meantime, pushing this one into the hands of all my thriller-loving friends.
What to drink: Honestly, you’ll want to find something non-alcoholic for this one. Maybe grab a soda and some popcorn. Michaelides worked as a screenwriter before publishing this novel and it reads like a movie.
Backlist Bump: While the writing styles are very different, The Other Typist by Suzanne Rendell is another book with a plot that is expertly written, concealing the truth until the very last pages. You’ll hate that you didn’t see it coming but, deep down, that’s what we all want in a psychological thriller, right?
Check out some other great reviews over at Barrie’s blog!
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