The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides

Eight stars

My introduction to Alex Michaelides was with this highly popular piece that seems to be a favourite of many. Said to be trained in film-writing, Michaelides definitely uses description effectively to build the tension in this chilling novel. Alicia Berenson is a popular painters and seems to be living an ideal life. Everything goes horribly wrong when her husband, Gabriel, returns home late. Berenson is said to have pulled out a gun and shot him repeatedly in the face, then never spoken again. Now institutionalised, she spends her days in silence, refusing to come to her own defences or offer any explanation as to what might have happened. When she is assigned a new psychotherapist, Theo Faber, the relationship continues to be one without words. Faber works all the angles to seek answers, if only to help his patient. While there are aspects to Berenson’s life and history that come up in speaking to those close to her, Faber cannot find what he seeks. As he juggles work with an adulterous wife, Faber discovers that silence certainly does mask many a secret. After countless attempts to get answers from Berenson, Faber succeeds in getting a few scraps, though the tale that he is told seems highly improbable. With a full diary kept by Alicia Berenson, the inner workings of the patient’s life come to the surface, though there is little Faber finds that explains the horrible crime. The key is somewhere inside Alicia Berenson, though no one is quite sure if and how to reach it. When they do, much left unsaid will fill in many of the missing pieces. Chilling in its delivery and quite intriguing to the interested reader, Alex Michaelides knows how to spin a tale. Those who enjoy mysteries that centre around the slow revelation of facts will surely want to keep this on their radar.

My small book group brought attention of this book to me. I was pleased to be able to share in the discovery of a new author and a story that piqued my attention. Michaelides uses his ability to tell a story and develop characters of interest to the reader. Both Alicia Berenson and Theo Faber prove to be strong protagonists in their own right, helping to shape the narrative with their backstories and character development. As the piece tells both of their personal lives, neither of which being highly enjoyable for them, the reader learns what might be said to pull them together as they move forward. The silence that Berenson exhibits is not only a challenge for Faber, but also forces him to use his own intuition when trying to learn about the woman he is supposed to help. The reader learns much in these fragmented revelations and can fill some of the holes for themselves, though the surprises that come to pass will offer needed twists to keep the reader wondering. Other characters help to augment the enjoyment of the piece for many readers, as things are more complex than seen at first glance. These characters help support a strong narrative and offer lovely insights into how the story will play out. The concept of the story is strong and I found myself eager to see where the truth may lie amidst all the chaos and silence. Michaelides knows how to piece together a mystery and keeps the reader intrigued without revealing too much at once, until the final reveal that tells all in a compact few pages. I enjoyed my first experience with the author and will likely return for another novel down the road.

Kudos, Mr. Michaelides, for this great piece. I can only hope your other writing is just as strong.

This book serves as the September 2019 selection for the Mind the Bookshelf Gap book group.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: