The Silent Patient

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North American hardcover, 1st edition.

The Silent Patient is a murder mystery book written by Alex Michaelides and published on 2019-02-05. In the book, Alicia Berenson is a successful painter with a loving husband, but she is convicted of his murder when she is found standing next to his brutally slain corpse. The murder it seems has left Alicia in a sort of catatonic state where she refuses to speak or communicate in any form other than a single painting of the Greek tragedy Alcestis. After years of remaining silent while institutionalized, a psycho-analyst named Theo Faber tries to get her to speak again to find out what really happened between her and her husband, but most of the people he talks to are either unwilling to talk about it, or clearly covering something up.

Personal

I was lent this book by a friend who thought I would enjoy it. I finished it on 2020-02-20 and enjoyed the mystery, but I had a few qualms with it.

Status

I do not own this book, but I've read it.

Review

— This section contains spoilers! —

Good

  • The initial description of the murder and Alicia's situation is intriguing and a good way to begin the story.
  • New information is slowly revealed which implicates new suspects and keeps you guessing for the whole book. Most of the people in the book remain suspects the whole time.
  • I like how Theo learns who he can trust by not revealing what he knows, and giving people enough room to concoct lies. It's a clever means of manipulation.
  • I generally find the unreliable narrator trope to be a bit overused these days, but this book did a good job of it without being so predicable.

Bad

  • The author spends too much time on Theo's relationship with Cathy, which isn't really that important for most of the book. Also, Theo's passive aggressive attitude with his cheating wife is very unappealing to me. Luckily, his tenacity as a detective prevents him from becoming too unlikable.
  • I didn't find enough evidence in Theo's backstory to believe that he would torture Alicia the way he did, just to punish Gabriel. Would he torture Gabriel, sure, but an innocent bystander, no? Based on his character, it seems much more likely he would be upfront with her, especially since he personally knows how bad it feels to be betrayed.
  • The choice Theo gives Gabriel is indeed right out of Alcestis, but why? It was Alicia who saw the play, not Theo. For this to work, we have to believe that Theo just happened to recreate the plot of a exact same Greek tragedy Alicia just watched even though he had never heard of before.

Ugly

  • Alicia having her diary in the mental institution is totally unbelievable. She's kept it and an ink pen hidden in the mental institution for six years without anyone (doctors, staff, and patients included) noticing that she was writing in it? The author states that she kept it hidden under the floorboards in her house and then sneaked it into the institution with her art supplies, but that doesn't work. Alicia would have gone from prison directly to the institution, nobody would let a convicted murderer go home to pack up some belongings, and, even if they did, they certainly wouldn't allow her to go rummaging under the floorboards unsupervised! And then how lax would the institution's security have to be to allow this sort of contraband in unnoticed? The author could have fixed this simply by having Alicia give Theo instructions on where to find her diary hidden at her old home.
  • In an interview about the book, the author explains that he took graduate level psychology classes and saw a therapist for 10 years, which was why he knew so much about psychology. However, when it comes time to chose quotes about psychology, he uses the, now discredited, ideas of Sigmund Freud? Either he didn't learn much from his classes, had terrible teachers, or used the prominence of Freud's name to appeal to readers; either way, it made me lose faith in the author's understanding of psychology. Respectable psychologists don't rely on Freud's largely anti-scientific ideas. There was one claim that I found to be especially dangerous: in the book, a colleague of Theo's says that all people who sexually assault children were themselves sexually assaulted. Imagine if a reader actually believes this and their own child comes to them and accuses someone of sexually molesting them, but, because the parent knows the accused wasn't sexually assaulted as a child, they ignore their own child's accusation!

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