Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.
Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.
Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations—a search for the truth that threatens to consume him….
“AT THE TIME I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND. BUT THAT’S HOW THERAPY WORKS. A PATIENT DELEGATES HIS UNACCEPTABLE FEELINGS TO HIS THERAPIST; AND SHE HOLDS EVERYTHING HE IS AFRAID TO FEEL, AND FEELS IT FOR HIM. THEN, EVER SO SLOWLY, SHE FEEDS HIS FEELINGS BACK TO HIM.”
I want to love Alex Michaelides. For the most part, he is a decent thriller writer and his novels often have a strong atmospheric start. However, his ‘twist’ endings always fall really flat for me. It was the same in The Maidens; a dark and gripping premise with an exceedingly poor pay off. A huge plot twist finale ≠ good thriller – especially when the overarching story itself is then riddled with plot holes!
As with The Maidens, Michaelides laser-focused determination to deliver the big twist ending meant that he lost sight of actually creating a coherent and engaging story all the way to the end. Entire chapters are wasted with Theo investigating Alicia’s shady friends and family and it all ends up being pointless. One thing about Michaelides is that he’ll give you red herrings just for the sake of it and then fail to deliver any resolution to the can of worms that he’s opened up because OMG LOOK TWIST ENDING!
The beginning holds so much promise and the pages practically ooze mystery and intrigue as we attempt to work out what has led to Alicia’s silence. After all, that’s the meant to be the heart of the story, isn’t it? It’s in the title itself. In lieu of actually providing a satisfying answer, Michaelides’ big twist takes the spotlight and Alicia fades into the background.
It’s the second book of Michaelides’ that I’ve read and I’ve noticed that certain behaviours when it comes to approaching female characters. Even in The Maidens, the females were so devoid of personality and reduced to clichés. Often, Michaelides veers into misogynistic territory. Alicia is worth Theo’s time and interest because she’s young and naturally beautiful. Meanwhile, women like Alicia’s aunt are ‘grotesque’ because they’re ugly, old and large and, therefore, must only be shown disdain. Similarly, all of the characters in the facility are women and all of them embody the same tired stereotypes. Unfaithful, gossipy, insecure. I grew bored of his white-knight narrative and his fixation on Alicia because she’s ‘not like the others’.
Considering The Silent Patient echoes the same pacing and structure as The Maidens, I am guessing this is just Michaelides’ formula when it comes to thrillers. It’s a shame as there’s a clear talent for writing mystery thrillers nestled within his work. After all, I did consume The Silent Patient in a space of hours.
Yet, for me, his repeated tunnel vision towards providing a ‘shocking twist’ ends up derailing his novels. I always finish a Michaelides book feeling very deflated.