Society has long joked that often it is the therapist who is the one most in need of therapy. This is most definitely a stereotype, but like all such generalizations, there is a grain of truth in there. One need look no further than Theo Faber, the protagonist of Alex Michaelides’ debut novel, The Silent Patient, to find an example of how the strange doctor/patient dynamic can derail a professional endeavor with just the slightest of provocation.
The Silent Patient is one of those books that is difficult to classify, largely because it does not want to be pigeonholed into any artificial constraints imposed by our many sub-genres. The Silent Patient is a thriller that reads like a police procedural by way of the psychological suspense highway. Yet, because of consistent tone, precise writing, and compelling characters, Alex Michaelides navigates the challenges of genre-hopping and succeeds in writing an enthralling novel that keeps the reader glued to the pages straight through to the end.
Theo Faber is a psychotherapist who finds himself obsessed with a patient by the name of Alicia Berenson. Alicia has been in The Grove, an exclusive psychiatric hospital, for six years after being accused of shooting her fashion photographer husband, Gabriel, in the face five times. Since the night of that incident, Alicia has not spoken a single word. Newly assigned to her case, Theo is convinced that he can get her to speak – and hopefully in the process figure out what happened at the couple’s home that evening.
Alex Michaelides tells his tale from Theo’s point-of-view. There are occasional chapters that represent the diary of Alicia Berenson. These diary entries give readers access to information that Theo does not have, drawing the reader into the story further – often to the point where it is easy to understand Theo’s obsessive search for answers, because they will feel it as well.
Before Gabriel’s death, Alicia was on the brink of a successful, but unremarkable, career as an artist; however it is the painting she completed the night of her husband’s murder that rocketed her to infamy. Since Alicia is not speaking, Theo seeks answers in her artwork and must interview individuals who knew this elusive woman back before the murder. Sometimes without authorization, Theo talks with the gallery owner who displays Alicia paintings, her neighborhood best friend, her estranged aunt and nephew, her husband’s brother, and several other more spoiler-y characters. Like a detective would, Theo attempts to bring clarity to this mosaic of impressions, information, and insinuation.
Meanwhile, Theo is not without problems of his own. He constant flouting of The Grove’s rules puts his job at risk, his rivalry with colleagues does not go unnoticed, and his loyal wife may actually be having an affair. Through all of this, his bond with Alicia continues to grow stronger – fueled by the fact that the two of them both had difficult childhoods that haunt them into adult life. The only question is, can that connection convince Alicia to talk before Theo drives himself over the edge of obsession?
With The Silent Patient, Alex Michaelides, has written a book about silence that will have readers talking for a very long time. A very nice reveal near the end of the novel sends shockwaves that begs for discussion with other readers. Read this book and join the conversation.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.