The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides, was a huge bestseller and got great critical reviews after its 2019 release. Michaelides, who was a first-time novelist, created a suspenseful story with a shocking twist, that stemmed from confusing the reader when it comes to POV and tense. It’s the sort of novel where after you’re done reading, you want to go back and reread sections to clear up any questions or misperceptions you might have.
There are two points of view in the novel. One is first person, past tense, in the voice of the main character, Theo Faber. He is a criminal psychotherapist tasked with helping a patient named Alicia Berenson. She was a brilliant artist who shot her husband, Gabriel, in the face five times. Now she refuses to talk. The other point of view in the novel is hers, but it’s told through her diary entries. Both point of views slowly uncover the mystery of what happened between Alicia and Gabriel, and why she killed him.
In the middle of all the action, Theo recounts his anguish at having caught his wife, Kathy, cheating. “If only I had imagined it all, then I could forget it, the way you forget a dream – I could wake up and it would fade away.” Theo, who is an expert in mental health, justifies his growing instability on the man with whom his wife is involved. “What was I guilty of – except falling in love? Was it that I loved too deeply, too needily, too much?”
Theo has two goals throughout the book; one is to get Alicia to talk, and the other is to save his marriage to Kathy. I can’t delve into how skillfully this novel is crafted without giving major spoilers. But everything in this novel –the shocking plot, the complex characterization of the protagonist, and the fluidity of time – is predicated on point of view and tense. The reader goes accepting certain conventions, only to… well, if you haven’t read it, you should and then you’ll find out. The Silent Patient was a riveting novel with a satisfying twist.
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