This book was not exactly what I expected, but that was okay…mostly.
First of all, Alex Michaelides’s The Silent Patient is more reflective & introspective for something touted on the cover as “the perfect thriller.” It is a mystery, for sure, and I suppose there is a little suspense, but I don’t know that I would call it a thriller. The story follows Theo Faber, a psychotherapist determined to discover why artist Alicia Berenson shot her husband five times and then ceased to speak another word. The murder is six years old when Theo begins treating Alicia and their sessions are in the confines of a secure psychiatric unit. There are no apparent dangers in investigating why Alicia pulled the trigger, and the ones that do turn out to exist aren’t exposed until the danger has already passed, hence my skepticism in labeling it a thriller. I didn’t mind the lack of suspense though, because the mystery was still there. I just think it could have been marketed better.
As for the book being introspective, I’m generally okay with that, so long as the characters draw me in enough to make me want to spend time examining them. This is where I feel like the book faltered a bit. The characters are fascinating, no doubt, and you absolutely want to find out what is going in Alicia’s mind, but I didn’t find myself particularly caring about them. The point of view played a big role in that, I think.
Most of the story is told from the POV of Theo, and follows his investigation into Alicia’s past, which leads to many characters telling us about Alicia and themselves rather than the reader getting to experience them. It doesn’t help that Theo seems to read people rather than actually connect with them so, as a reader, you get more of his psych analysis of the other characters than actual reactions to them. Which is why I found myself eventually reading not because I cared about what would happen to the characters, but simply because I wanted the answer to what had happened. This may have also been what removed most of the suspense for me.
We do get some shake-up in the POV in the form of entries from Alicia’s diary from the days leading up to the murder. These were the sections that made me feel more engaged. Alicia became less of a clinical analysis and more three-dimensional, as did the characters involved in her life. And even though I knew how it would end, these were the sections in which I felt that little bit of suspense, the dread of what was inevitably coming. I think if more of the story could have been told from Alicia’s POV I would have enjoyed it more, or at least felt more invested in the story.
The story does have strength in its pacing once it gets through Theo’s introduction. Chapters are generally short and punchy, keeping the reader moving from event to event until about 20 pages from the end, when all of a sudden it hits overdrive. You could tell Michaelides had done his homework on mental healthcare as well, which allowed for some added depth and detail that I appreciated.
In the end, I’m giving The Silent Patient 2.5 stars. I was intrigued by the mystery, but the characters fell a little flat. It is a fast-paced read though, and the story answers everything it sets up, so if that’s what your after, or you’re fascinated by the field of psychology, this might be a higher rated book for you.