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Review – “The Silent Patient” By Alex Michaelides

***MILD SPOILERS AHEAD***

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides was the first of the many that brought me into the world of crime, murder mysteries especially. A psychological thriller, a classic whydunnit I’d call it. Although I am not a huge fan of books that screw my mind (I believe that I have just a tiny bit of my mind left handling a toddler and I’d rather save it) this book came with rave reviews and I made an exception, just to break out of my comfort zone. I was highly skeptical, you know. I had stopped picking up books on impulse since I realized my time is precious (toddler again) and I will get only so much time to read (read give up my sleep and read) So I better make choices that I wouldn’t regret. So, did I? I wouldn’t say this review would be an entirely positive one, but it will have those points as well which I thought gives less credibility to this otherwise super debut novel.

Psychotherapist Theo Faber takes up a job, or better say worms his way in, at The Grove, a facility for dangerous convicts. Why leave his comfortable job elsewhere and come to the sinking ship that this institution is? The reason is the artist, Alicia Berenson. A high profile resident convict of The Grove who has been convicted in an open-and-shut case of murdering her husband, 5 bullets in the man and she, in behind the bars. What’s so strange about the case that brings Theo to her after 6 years of the crime is that she hasn’t spoken a word since, either in her defense or against it. Theo believes he would be able to break the walls that Alicia has built around herself and get the truth out of her mouth, whatever that may be. With Theo now treating Alicia in the hopes of a breakthrough, what proceeds gives a new perspective to the entire case. Emotions are expressed and behavioral changes are presented by Alicia in a manner that no one could believe. As Theo digs deeper into the past, he realizes the truth is much deeply embedded than just the day of the crime which Alicia has committed.

Written in parts, the story is told from the POV of both Theo and Alicia. While Alicia keeps a diary, Theo’s parts are more conversational, he and his wife and he and Alicia. Frankly, the chapters with his wife bored me to death and I considered putting the books down several times wondering what the hell, why is the wife in the midst of all this when apparently she doesn’t have anything of value to add to the book except several extra pages of inconsequential matter? But what I didn’t know, pardon me, I am a novice in thriller/crime, was that in a genre like this, nothing is neglected. What is written must be relevant somehow, somewhere. The complexity of Michaelides’ story is revealed only at the end, the sheer amount of work that must have gone into building the characters and then laying them bare for the reader by delving deep into their psyches is enthralling. The gradual release of Alicia’s miseries is mirrored by that of Theo’s. Both the primary characters have dark secrets to guard, and it is in the company of each other that they open up and let the reader in. 

From what I know about psychological thrillers, they are usually the playground for the author where the reader is just a spectator. Both the teams are the author himself, he kicks, he saves; he hits, he catches; what he shows is what we see most of the time. Unless we are someone belonging to the super reader category and able to read between the lines or guess accurately, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to see through the author’s fib. In this book, the author resorts to the same method as mentioned above, masking facts only to reveal them later and leave the reader on her knees with the carpet-pull effect. I am not saying I disliked the book, in fact, I liked it so much that I dived headfirst into the genre, but it does have its misgivings, the foremost being Theo’s desperate attempt at silencing Alicia. Even if she would have spoken, who would have believed a convicted murderer who hasn’t spoken for 6 years and is considered almost senile? There are a few other tidbits that put me off, like Theo’s relationship with his wife, his eagerness to treat Alicia, and most importantly, the misgivings about the timeline.

Despite all of the above-mentioned irregularities, I enjoyed reading the book. I had a lot to take away from it. The issues around mental illness and its acceptance, or lack of it, by the patient and the ones around them even today, is heart-wrenching. What must be treated like any other disease, is left to fend for itself which often gives way to dire consequences. Of all the times, now is the most critical of all to acknowledge, understand, and lend an ear to those who suffer silently. 

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