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Review: The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Updated: Feb 14, 2020

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.


So.


It’s always a bit tricky to review this kind of book, as there were some aspects of it that I really, really liked and other aspects that I found rather terrible.

Let’s start with the positives – the story is a well-paced, gripping thriller. The point of no return comes at the exact right moment in the book, and once it hits, it’s physically impossible to put the book down. The plot grabs you and holds your attention vividly (I stayed up well past my bedtime because I needed to finish it so I could know how it ends) and the plot twist did make me yelp, and was perfectly placed, perfectly orchestrated, and does hit you right where you want it to hit you.

So, having said that, it seems slightly counterintuitive that a book with a good story can be rated so low – or, strangely enough, that the plot is the only saving grace of the book. If the story’s no good then the book’s no good, right? Well, yes. A book with a bad plot can be somewhat salvaged by good characterization or writing; a book with bad characterization, bad writing, and bad dialogue cannot necessarily be saved by even a good plot. At the risk of sounding annoyingly prescriptive: all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.


And, unfortunately, the only good thing about this book is the story – and even that’s not really enough to save it. I’d categorize this as a very immature book – the writing is sloppy, the dialogue is bad, the characterization is patchy at best, and, as good as the story was, it wasn’t necessarily an original plot twist. Yes, it was perfectly paced – but the sudden realization of an unreliable narrator has been done many times before, and it’s not like anybody has ever done it better than Agatha Christie. The innovation of the chapters switching timelines without you knowing it until the plot twist realizes itself was good, I grant Alex Michaelides that.


But everything else was bad. The dialogue was horrid. I rolled my eyes, cringed, and got annoyed with every spoken line. The characters are way too self-aware to be believable as people; there’s a performative quality to every word of this book that completely shatters any sense of being able to really bury yourself in the story. A good writer tells rather than shows; every single sentence, every single line of dialogue – especially the chapters where the silent patient of the title is writing in her diary – screams “EXPOSITION! LOOK READER I AM WRITING A BOOK! ADMIRE MY CLEVERNESS!” in a way that makes reading most of this book profoundly uncomfortable, even unenjoyable. The author also goes off on a long, condescending, pedantic tangents about the premise of psychotherapy and psychology, assuming that his readers do not have even the most basic grip of what ‘bipolar disorder’ means. The way the author puts his instructions in the mouths of his psychologist and psychotherapist characters, as catty asides and horribly clunky awkward explanations, screams bad television rather than a well-written, clever thriller.


None of the characters are fully explored or fully fleshed-out. The narrator goes down the slippery slope of ‘oh no I’m going crazy!’ way too suddenly for it to feel properly frightening – it doesn’t creep up on you like it should; it just switches. Think Daenarys Targaryen’s swap to Mad Queen in season 8 for the sloppiness of writing and character-building I’m talking about here. And, throughout the entire book, you get the impression that Alex Michaelides is trying so, so hard to be clever – and just falling so disappointingly short.


And yet – and yet – I tore through the book in one sitting. That’s what makes this so disappointing. All the elements of a good story were there; they just would have been better served by a better, perhaps more fully developed author. The author biography on the back flap suggests that this is Michaelides’s first novel, and unfortunately, it’s very clear in the way he writes that he has never done this before. I hope for his sake that he gets better, because I would like to revisit his plots and his pacing when he’s improved his novel-writing skills. This was described as an intricate, witty thriller – but it’s actually just cleverly-packaged and well-marketed airport pulp fiction. If you like that kind of stuff, or you’re looking for something to fill a long train ride, then maybe this could be your cup of tea.


If, however, you’re in the market for a good, gripping thriller that’s actually well-written: please see below for a short, by no means exhaustive list.


· The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie

· Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

· The Dublin Murder Squad mysteries, Tana French (I am praying daily for a seventh book in this; they are so, so, so, so good)

· The Dinner, Herman Koch (translated from Dutch)

· Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier

· The Talented Mr Ripley, Patricia Highsmith


Anyway, let me know your thoughts on this book if you read it/have read it. Or, if you pick up any of the seven I’ve recommended above, please let me know! OR if you’ve got any thriller recommendations – I always find it very tricky to find a good thriller that’s also well-written, so if you’ve got some, please holla at me.


Happy reading,

Amélie xx

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About

I’m Amélie, I love books and reading, and I also love talking about them.

I’m incredibly lucky to be bilingual, so I read books in both French and English, and will talk about both of those on here – although I will do more in English, since I know that’s probably what the majority of the people who ever find this blog will be interested in!

I also like history, traveling, Shakespeare, coffee, cheese, musicals, Italian Baroque art, the ballet, Mock the Week and Have I Got News For You, flowers, makeup, high heels, and baking. Yes, I’m a walking cliché. I am aware.

Please do tweet at me with any suggestions/book recommendations/thoughts.

In case you’re curious – yes, Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book of all time.