Content warning: this piece mentions suicide and suicide attempts.
Famous painter Alicia Berenson is a seemingly loving and devoted wife to her husband, a successful fashion photographer — until she is found with her wrists slit, standing over the dead body of her husband, who had been tied to a chair and shot multiple times. When Berenson refuses to speak a single word in her own defense or otherwise, she is believed by all to be her husband’s murderer and cast into notoriety. Berenson is locked away at the Grove, a secure forensic holding facility, away from the eyes of the public. Six years later, criminal psychotherapist Theo Faber takes on a job at the Grove — determined to get Berenson to talk and unlock her secrets. “The Silent Patient” by Alex Michaelides follows Faber’s search for the truth, leading readers down a path full of questions and mysteries.
This book is one that I literally could not put down until I had finished it. I first read it about a year ago in under three hours and found myself completely blown away. Looking back, I do not know what pushed me to start reading this book; I normally stay away from thrillers and crime novels, preferring genres that don’t leave me too scared to fall asleep.
Although “The Silent Patient” was marketed as a psychological thriller, I found it to be more along the lines of a suspenseful, twisted character study. Less dramatic and fast-paced than typical thrillers, Michaelides’ quietly hypnotic and methodic writing style had me feeling like I was lost in a maze. Every turn broke down the characters further and left me scratching my head in complete puzzlement. It felt as though we were peeling apart the characters, layer by layer, to expose their secrets.
Berenson was one of my favorite characters — not necessarily in terms of likeability, but the way Michaelides wrote about her. Throughout the book, there are some parallels drawn between Berenson and Alcestis, a woman from Greek mythology and the subject of Euripides’ tragedy “Alcestis.” In “The Silent Patient,” Berenson’s only ‘statement’ after the death of her husband is a painted self-portrait that she titles “Alcestis.” The mythological Alcestis sacrificed herself to die in place of her husband Admetus, and the warrior Heracles later wrestled with Death to bring Alcestis back to the world of the living. I am a huge fan of mythology and the genre of mythological retellings, so I liked this added element of depth to Berenson’s character.
I truly enjoyed reading this book but did not realize just how intricate it was until Michaelides revealed the big ‘twist.’ The reveal really did surprise me, so much that I stopped reading and physically flipped through the previous chapters to make sure I hadn’t missed something. I suspect that readers more familiar with the thriller and crime genres may be able to predict the ending, but it was definitely a shock for me.
After my first time reading this book, I immediately rated it five out of five crabs. However, following some reflection and a recent reread, I am lowering my rating. The plot has a great premise and is intriguing even on reread. Nevertheless, around the middle of the novel, I found myself getting frustrated with all the red herrings and meaningless characters. It only served to make the plot convoluted and left me annoyed with the author for making every character out to be unnecessarily creepy and untrustworthy. There were also quite a few scenes that were simply unbelievable and unrealistic. I will admit that although I knew what the big “twist” would be this time around, I still found it to be well-disguised.
I also found some issues with the author’s depiction of mental health topics — treatments, diagnoses — as well as the descriptions of the Grove and the so-called mental health professionals running the facility. This, combined with quite a few misogynistic representations of the female characters in this novel, had me feeling uneasy.
I will not deny that I enjoyed reading this book, even with all the frustrating plot points and scenarios, but I cannot ignore the blatant misogyny and the fact that the author does a huge disservice when it comes to mental health-related topics. For these reasons, I am rating this book three out of five crabs.
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