The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Alex Michaelides pic
Screenwriter and novelist, Alex Michaelides

So, thrillers go like this.

The first plot points give intensely conflicting actions, like a wife expressing deep love for her husband, then a day later she is discovered with a gun in her hand and her husband tied to a chair with five shots into his face, his blood mixed with hers as it drips from her slashed wrists, but she stands comatosed, but alive, and refuses to speak.

Then the first person narrator, an authoritative figure like a lawyer, doctor, or detective tries to get the woman to speak and is determined to solve the seemingly unsolvable mystery. There are no witnesses and the case seems cut and dried. He, and increasingly she these days, talks to people involved with the woman, and/or her journal, or long lost sister / lover / colleague, is discovered and details emerge about her history, her marriage, her family, her work colleagues which intermingle simultaneously with details of the narrator’s history, marriage, family, and work colleagues until a complicated web of possible motives, secrets, jealousies, and, of course, red herrings swim around your brain leading you to think, at various moments, ‘Oh, I know who did it!’ and then you are encouraged more in your beliefs and then suddenly they are dashed, or seemingly dashed, onto the rocks of evidence, only to emerge later as indeed a possibility, but maybe not.

Sometimes you are right and you’re left with a scraggy feeling of disappointment causing you to discard the book after ‘the end’, if you get that far, and to search for a different thriller writer.

Sometimes you are wrong and rarely, very rarely, you are hit over the head with the truth at the very moment of reading it, and you gasp.

The Silent Patient is one of those.

Alex Michaelides is a screenwriter of Greek-Cypriot/English extraction and lives in London. This is his first novel.

Adding to this mix of intrigue, and as a source of clues, are photo-realistic paintings – the woman, Alicia Berenson, is an artist; a Greek tragedy of love and resurrection by Euripides, Alcestis – the name of a Berenson self-portrait; and a secure psychiatric facility, The Grove, where our first-person narrator, Theo Faber, works and where Alicia is incarcerated.

At times the writing feels formulaic but it is, after all, a ‘No.1 New York Times Bestseller’ so you are warned. The film rights have been snapped up by Plan B, Brad Pitt’s production company, as part of its next three year plan and is currently listed as ‘in development’.

I rarely read thrillers – generally, I don’t care who did it – but this one kept me reading and what I love about this book is that the very way it’s written is a clue to, not who did it, but what caused it to be done, and that it is not a simple first-person narrative: when you’ve read it you realise that what you’ve read is only possible because you’ve read it. Enough said. No spoilers here.

The language is simple and direct and the pages are very easily turned. I read this in two afternoons. It’s the perfect airport novel, great escapism, entertaining, and Mr. Michaelides is grinning all the way to the good life. Smart Alex!

You can buy this book in various formats here.