By Alex Michaelides, A twisty psychological thriller
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides shows you exactly what type of book it’s aiming to be from the very first sentence: “Alicia Berenson was thirty-three years old when she killed her husband.” No messing around here.
For people who like their thrillers-slash-mysteries to have twisty plots and straight-forward writing, this recent release is one to look at (but with some big caveats, so keep reading). Since its February 2019 release, it’s been climbing all over the bestseller charts and is being developed into a movie by heavy-hitters Annapurna and Plan B. See below for more details on the adaptation.
Update: For answers to questions like What happens at the end of The Silent Patient? and other spoiler-ish things or explanations, scroll down to the end of the post!
Six years ago, Alicia Berenson, a well-known painter, murdered her husband and hasn’t spoken a word since. He was found bound to a chair with gunshot wounds to his face, and she was convicted soon thereafter.
Theo Faber is a psychotherapist who hopes to treat Alicia and uncover the mystery behind her motives for killing her husband. As they sit in silence, the main clue he has is a painting she completed. She titled it Alcestis, named after a heroine in Greek mythology who sacrifices her life to save her husband.
Check out the Silent Patient on Amazon.
Book Review: the Good Stuff
Let’s start with the good stuff. The premise of this book is fantastic. I was engaged right away. The ending is surprising, even if you guess the twist (I didn’t, but some might), and the way the crucial scene of the book plays out is well done. I was skeptical of whether the book would come together, and I pleasantly surprised that it ultimately does.
For most thrillers, I think, the ending is the make-it-or-break it aspect of the story, and this one is pretty solid. Michaelides’s debut novel is an easy, accessible and entertaining read, and it will undoubtedly make for a thrilling movie if and when that is released.
Overall, the story keeps your interest and is well-paced. It reads pretty much the way a thriller should read, with plenty of twists and intriguing bits of information doled out at a steady clip.
Book Review: the Not-So-Good Stuff
So, the flaws in this book are numerous, but they’re also pretty standard for the genre. The characterizations of characters are sort of silly or cartoonish (the motherly female doctor! the arrogant doctor who gets in the way! and so on). Michaelides throws in so many red herrings and false starts that the book begins to have an unintentionally campy feel. (Without giving anything away, when we find out why Theo gets knocked out, I actually rolled my eyes.)
As for the writing, it’s passable, but leaves a bit to be desired. It serves to move from one plot point to the next (sometimes rather clumsily), and that’s about it. And while I liked the ending, a lot of the minor plot “twists” are pretty uninspired — there’s a lot of “he said, she said” in the mushy middle of the book that more closely resembles a jumbled mess than an entertaining mystery. Most of those red herrings are left unresolved.
Finally, despite the steadily moving pace of the book, it takes a while to get into the meat of the book. There’s a range of characters to be introduced and decent chunk of background information to go over before the action starts to happen. As a result, it relies frequently on one of my least-favorite literary/mystery “tricks” to try to sustain the reader’s interest as it doles out background information — it throws out ominous-sounding narration to reassure you that things will get interesting later (I didn’t know then that it was doomed, I would later realize my mistake, etcetera and etcetera). Not a big deal, but I wish people wouldn’t do this.
The Silent Patient Movie Adaptation
For anyone wondering about the adaptation, as of April 2019, it’s listed as “in development”, so it’s fairly early in the process. Annapurna and Plan B (Brad Pitt’s production company) have optioned the rights as part of their three-year production pact. Their other recent collaborations include If Beale Street Could Talk and Vice.
For all the details, see Everything We Know About the Silent Patient Movie Adaptation.
Read it or Skip it?
The Silent Patient is a thriller that nails the ending, and for that reason alone I’m inclined to forgive a lot of its imperfections. I was perplexed by the main mystery in this book and felt that gratifying “oh man, I should have guess this!” feeling when it was revealed. For me, this goes a long way.
As a fan of thrillers, I’m fairly forgiving of books in this genre that aren’t perfect. I found this book mildly entertaining, and I think there’s lots of people who will enjoy reading it, especially if you love smartly laid out plots.
That said, my main thought is that it will be much better as a movie. (And I wouldn’t be surprised if the potential to sell movie rights is why the publisher picked it up in the first place.) The basic frame of a really good plot is there, it just needs some retooling and a little more nuance. Given the fantastic reputation of the studios developing it, anyone who is not a fan of a genre should probably just watch to movie when it comes out.
That said, if you do like psychological thrillers and are not nit-picky about your books, this is a quick and fun read overall. If you liked The Wife Between Us, for example, you might like this book. Check out the Silent Patient on Amazon.
Spoilers and Explanation start here! Don’t read beyond this point if you haven’t read the book! Keep reading if you’ve read the book, but have questions!
Where can I find a full plot summary of The Silent Patient?
For the full summary of The Silent Patient, scroll down a little and click Show/Hide Detailed Plot Summary
Help! I’m confused. What’s happens in The Silent Paient?
The Silent Patient is told with two intertwined timelines. The first is before the murder where Theo falls in love but gets cheated on. Theo then tracks down the “other man” (Gabriel), who turns out to be married to Alicia. Theo (wearing a ski mask on his head) ties them up, outs Gabriel as a cheater, and gets Gabriel to show what a jerk he is. (Theo asks Gabriel which one of the two of them — Gabriel or Alicia — he should shoot, and Gabriel chooses Alicia). Theo doesn’t actually shoot anybody, but Alicia is horrified enough by Gabriel’s answer that she shoots Gabriel.
The second timeline is what happens afterwards. Theo gets the job as Alicia therapist because he genuinely feels bad about what happened with her. However, Theo eventually figures out that Alicia does, in fact, recognize him as the masked man. He ends up killing her to protect himself, but not before she writes the truth in her diary. The book ends with the police coming to question him about the diary.
The big twist is when you realize that they are two different timelines (one before the murder, the other after) being told at once, and Theo was the “masked man” that prompted the murder (though Alicia is the one who actually did it).
What happens at the end of The Silent Patient?
In other words, the entire book has been told jumping back and forth in time. The parts involving Kathy are all in the past. The entire book is happening because Kathy cheated on him (with Gabriel) and then it resulted in Theo showing up at Gabriel and Alicia’s house.
Theo tied up Gabriel and Alicia to scare them and to expose Gabriel as the slimeball he is. He forces Gabriel to admit that he’d be willing to let Alicia get shot to save himself. What Theo did not foresee was that Alicia would go ahead and shoot Gabriel.
The way that it plays out in present day is that after many months of therapy, Alicia finally talks. When she speaks, she tells Theo what happened on the night of Gabriel’s death — but she changes the story slightly to test his response.
However, from that story, Theo realizes that Alicia does recognize him as the masked intruder who tied them up. As a result, he injects her with something to force her to overdose, and it puts her in a coma.
Unbeknownst to Theo, before Alicia blacks out from the drugs, she wrote down her story and revealed Theo as the masked intruder. Jean (Alicia’s friend/gallery owner) ends up finding it and turning it into the police. The book ends with the police inspector showing up to confront Theo about Alicia’s admission.
What was Theo’s motivation in The Silent Patient?
Why did Theo kill Alicia? He had been wearing a mask when he tied them up and didn’t think Alicia would recognize him. He didn’t think Alicia would shoot Gabriel, because he didn’t know her past mental instability. When he planned out the scene revealing Gabriel to be a cheater, he genuinely just wanted to out him. Later, Theo realizes that Alicia is stuck in an asylum and not coping, so he feels bad that he started all this and goes there to help her. However, when he realizes that she has figured out who he is, he has to kill her.
How did Theo end up with the gun?
Basically, Theo shows up to the house with a knife, but ends up with Alicia/Gabriel’s gun. (In her diary, Alicia mentions that they have a gun, and she moves it into their cupboard at one point.) It’s not clear how exactly he knows where it is or how to find it.
I figured that Theo had seen the gun while stalking them. After threatening Alicia with the knife and tying her up, Theo probably went and found it. Alternatively, perhaps Theo saw Alicia go hide it while he was stalking them.
I don’t think there’s a clear answer here, but that’s what I figured probably happened.
Have more questions? Drop a comment, and I’ll try to answer if I can!
Detailed Book Summary (Spoilers)
Section by Section Summary
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