REVIEW | The Silent Patient: A fresh departure from the psychological thriller

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The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides.
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides.

"Perhaps some of us are simply born evil, and despite our best efforts we remain that way." - Alex Michaelides, The Silent Patient

Gabriel and Alicia Berenson are the perfect couple, hopelessly in love with art, and each other. What could go wrong? Seemingly, nothing… until Gabriel arrives home late one evening and is shot in the face five times by none other than his artistically gifted wife, Alicia. Caught red-handed, Alicia flabbergasts everyone by not saying another word for almost four years.

Alicia, silent as the dead, is admitted into a mental health facility where a criminal psychotherapist, Theo Faber, takes a keen interest in her and before long stakes his career on unravelling the notorious mystery that is now Alicia Berenson.

The Silent Patient took me a quick 6 hours to get through. A seriously hypnotic page-turner, it is guaranteed to keep you from slumber, or altogether infiltrate your dreams.

It is largely categorised as a psychological thriller, creating an impression with the reader to expect a fast-paced, twisting mystery. But it does nothing of the sort. It is in fact a largely methodical thread which, when tugged, forms a roller coaster of character developments, gut-wrenching suspense and tantalising promises.

The true wealth of the novel lies in the characters themselves. The author creates excellent character dispositions and has a talent for immediately making the reader love or hate the character; despite this the reader has no idea who to trust.

It is a refreshing departure from the myriad of psychological thrillers that revolve around a "damsel-in-distress" temperament. The Silent Patient, instead, carries its female characters with a startlingly powerful, evasive and slightly crafty demeanour.

The book lacks a prevailing romantic element, although this is not a negative feature of the novel. However, the manner in which the therapist battles with his marriage and reminisces about the magnanimity of his love for his wife is truly awe-inspiring.

The contrast and countertransference between the patient and the therapist, and the stark similarities in the tragedies they faced at tender ages contribute to the reader's feelings of despair and revolt as the plot unravels itself along with thick layers of secrets, betrayal and allure.

The juxtaposition of the Patient's character in real-time to the alternating chapters of her diary entries is a commanding way to draw the reader's attention to the woman that was, and the woman that is. A pleasant theme throughout the novel is the overtones of Greek mythology and its compelling nature, notwithstanding the fact that the author is partly Greek.

Despite its psychological focus, the novel is deeply tragic and heart-wrenching as you flash by the pages. It is easy to read, and extremely smooth-flowing. The book piques the reader's fascination by telling the story of a woman who cannot tell it herself.

The cherry on the top is the reader, in retrospect, coming to the realisation that this novel is intricate, intelligent and luxuriantly entertaining in its multiple timelines.

Being an avid reader of psychological thrillers, I am extremely demanding of a novel's final reveal. The final reveal of The Silent Patient is not disappointing. Contrarily, it is jolting, riveting and causes the reader to appreciate the complexities of the stories and the intelligence of the novel.

The Silent Patient is a stellar debut novel, already optioned for film, guaranteed to keep you guessing until the very end.

- Tashleen Kasipershad is a final year law student at UKZN, Pietermaritzburg, and an avid reader.

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