Published by Celadon Books on February 5, 2019
Promising to be the debut novel of the season The Silent Patient is a shocking psychological thriller of a woman’s act of violence against her husband—and of the therapist obsessed with uncovering her motive…
Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.
Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.
Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations—a search for the truth that threatens to consume him....
As you might have guessed by now, I read from pretty much two genres: young adult, and domestic thrillers. I bounce back and forth between the two with pretty regular dependability, and occasionally I read a young adult domestic thriller. But by and large I tend to not believe anyone when they say that XYZ Book is the thriller of the year, the latest and greatest, the … whatever, Becky, it’s about a husband and wife and one of them killed the other and we’re gonna pretend the neighbor did it, we’ve all read this book 50 times now okay?
Anyway, The Silent Patient comes to us as a debut that sneaks up on the heels of the new year – it’s fast and it sneaks up on your heels like a dog trying to get at your BBQ lunch at a party.
It’s basically this puppy, only not as cute since the subject matter is infinitely more disturbing than this cotton ball dog.
Do I think that The Silent Patient is the ~best book of the year~, as it’s being touted? No. But do I think it’s unique and stands on its own as an intelligent, different take on the domestic thriller genre? For sure.
How I’d Describe This Book to a Friend
Alicia definitely killed her husband, Gabriel. Like, she super did it, you guys. She was caught red-handed holding the literal smoking gun. The mystery here is not in “who dunnit?” because we know from “go” who it was – the mystery is in the “why.” We don’t know why Alicia killed her husband, the man she professed to love more than anything in the world and was staunchly devoted to until the bitter end. And it turns out that if she has her way, we never will – because ever since she was caught by the police, Alicia has not spoken a word.
Not during her trial, not in therapy sessions, nor to any visitor she’s received. She is notorious for being a brilliant artist and painter, and the only communication she’s given at all since the crime happened has been to paint an eerie self-portrait, entitled “Alcestis.” What the hell is that? Why won’t she speak? Is she as crazy as everyone is convinced she is?
Alicia’s story is told in two perspectives – a flashback epistolary method told via her journal, and through the eyes of her devoted psychoanalyst, Theo. We get to know both of them across the course of this book – through Alicia’s diary entries we hear about her troubles with what feels like the entire world being out to touch her butt (brother in law? check. male best friend? check), and through Theo’s determination to get through to her in their awkward, one-sided therapy sessions. We also see Theo’s life outside these sessions, what his home life is like and his relationship with his wife, how he relates to Alicia in his own weird, Theo way.
The Bottom Line
If you like a good psychiatric hospital setting – and who doesn’t? – and your domestic thrillers less on the “who did this” side and more on the “what the fuck why?” side, check this out. This is a debut novel from an author who I can definitely see quickly rising in the ranks – he has a new and different, fresh perspective on the genre that is badly needed at this stage. Chapters are short and make it all too easy to read “just one more” – this is how I read this book so fast (for me, anyway, which is slow to most of you), and you really empathize with Alicia through her diary entries.
If I could make any criticism, it would be that I am not a huge fan of Theo – I’m not sure if it’s who he is as a person, or just the way he’s written, but I read everything he says in a high-pitched keening whine that never really stops. If this book was 90% Alicia’s diaries and 10% therapy sessions, I’d have been happy. But that’s not a high enough criticism for me to keep this book from anything but four stars, because I was genuinely enamored and couldn’t put it down.
Why won’t Alicia speak? Why did she kill her husband? Are we born evil, or is it an issue of nurture? Why is the UK government so lax with letting patients in a mental ward get a hold of medications and things they can use as weapons? Come give The Silent Patient a read and find out for yourself.
“We often mistake love for fireworks – for drama and dysfunction. But real love is very quiet, very still. It’s boring, if seen from the perspective of high drama. Love is deep and calm – and constant.”