Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Alex Michaelidis - The Silent Patient

Only she knows what happened.
Only I can make her speak.
I love him so totally, completely, sometimes it threatens to overwhelm me.
Sometimes I think-
No. I won't write about that.
Alicia Berenson writes a diary as a release, an outlet - and to prove to her beloved husband that everything is fine. She can't bear the thought of worrying Gabriel, or causing him pain.
Until, late one evening, Alicia shoots Gabriel five times and then never speaks another word.
Forensic psychotherapist Theo Faber is convinced he can successfully treat Alicia, where all others have failed. Obsessed with investigating her crime, his discoveries suggest Alicia's silence goes far deeper than he first thought.
And if she speaks, would he want to hear the truth?

Comment: I've decided to give in to the hype and read this book but thankfully, two friends had not read it either and we could buddy read it, making the experience more interesting.

In this book, we have a psychological thriller about Alicia Berenson, who is accused of killing her husband but since being caught, she has not spoken a word, not even during the trial. Now, Theo Faber, a psychotherapist who is interested in her case, decides to apply for a job at the clinic where she is being treated and he believes he will be able to reach her. However, things don't go as easy as that and Theo eagerly investigates Alicia's life on his own, trying to find some clue that might point in the right direction. At the same time, he must deal with personal problems which might affect his decisions, but will he truly discover why Alicia is silent?

It is true that this is a very fluid and easy book to read. The chapters are short and objective and it helps the reader to have a very clear image of what is being said, which in turn makes the narrative feel as if it's flowing. I understand the appeal because it's easy to turn the pages and have the sensation the twist/resolution will arrive quickly.

As for the writing... well, in that I would say things aren't as smooth because while this is easy to read, I really expected more from the narrative sequence and the psychology of the characters. In that regard, just thinking to myself about other books in the genre, this wasn't as fascinating as the accolades made me believe... it's true the base of the story is quite ingenious, but the execution didn't feel as convincing as I hoped considering the hype.

The story is actually very simple: Alicia and her husband seemed in love and devoted to each other but one hot day in summer she kills him, is caught red handed, but speaks no word since then. Alicia is a painter and her last painting presents an intriguing clue, the image of an old Greek tragedy where a woman dies for her husband, is saved but never speaks again. Alicia is deemed unbalanced but she does not say a word to defend herself. Theo Faber thinks he might help her and while we follow his thought process, we can see he might have an agenda, although it doesn't seem obvious right away. He also deals with personal issues and it seems clear he will discover why Alicia won't speak but not how.

The idea of this novel is very good, yes. I especially liked the connection with the Greek tragedy and thought this would have an even stronger importance to the big picture but after all, the explanation is a bit more mundane. Still, after knowing Alicia's reasons, why she was deemed unstable, even for situations previous to the murder, I must say the connecting clues are a little flimsy. I say this because we don't get to have access to the information in such a way that makes it serious enough.

In part, I got this feeling because Theo as narrator is clearly unreliable. This was an interesting decision by the author, the focus isn't, therefore, simply on the case or in Alicia's character, but in how the therapist interacts with the surroundings. He, then, acts as if he was an investigator or as if he was some kind of authority, which immediately made me a little unsure about where the author was taking this, after all how this guy be so noisy and no one would question that?  I feel this stretched things into a path I think could have been better.

As for the things we get to learn as he investigates, some clues were definitely intriguing, namely why she painted that final painting or what she might have meant with such specific detail, but of course the goal is to know why she doesn't speak. When we do learn that, close to the end, I was a little disappointed by how weak it was. I don't think we got to have enough base before, to justify such radical behavior from Alicia. Her circumstances in the past were certainly serious, I don' mean to belittle her past experiences and how they shaped her personality, but between what we know of her life, before and after the murder, just doesn't compute in terms of seriousness. I feel we had to be led to believe many things not always consistent.

The consistency of information given throughout the story is often easily ignored because of the fluidity of the narrative, but thinking about it in a more isolated way, I think there are just too many inconsistencies, both in behavior of the characters and in why they did certain things. I think the psychological aspects weren't as developed as they could have, which might have added better tension to the novel.

When we finally are told the big twist, I wasn't truly surprised. And not because it was so easy to guess, which I suppose it might have been if one only focuses on certain details, but because I simply disappointed with how the author chose to present the climax. The connection between all elements was special yes, but since the book is told by Theo in first person, with a few diary entries by Alicia, I think the big twist was actually wasted. I think this would have gone better if the narrator had been third person. The thing is, we have to suspend disbelief once more, to accept that the explanation given is well planned. I was more meh about it, even more so after having read other books where the unreliable narrator was achieved so much better.

All things considered, this was a very easy book to read and had very good scenes and some ideas I really liked. But the overall effect wasn't very convincing for me and the shock factor wasn't as big for me because of writing options. 
Grade: 7/10

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