The Silent Patient – Alex Michaelides

The Silent Patient has been doing the rounds of major newspapers, lifestyle columns and even in the blogger circuits. Thus when I got the chance to get the book at a super price from Delight Bookstore and read it for myself, I did not lose the opportunity. Prima facie it begins as the story of Alicia, a culprit who is found as the only suspect to her husband’s cold-blooded murder. She never speaks about the night when her husband died. Subsequently she is admitted to a psychiatric welfare centre. Enters Theo, an experienced psychiatrist who insists that he is the only one who can make Alicia speak. It is only a matter of time when the readers come to know whose resolution wins- lifelong silence or grit and determination to make The Silent Patient speak!

The novel follows two distinct timelines, that of Alicia and Theo, before and after they cross paths with each other. Alicia, an artist is living a happy and content life with her husband and her works of art. Theo, a psychiatrist loves his wife dearly, but is shocked to see signs of infidelity entering their relationship. This plants a seed of suspicion within him. Coupled with his own traumatic past, when this suspicion of losing his love exemplifies itself to engulf his life and mind, the consequences are disastrous.

Alicia and Theo’s journey together raises pertinent questions about the thought-process of an individual and how it ultimately influences one’s actions. Written in an unputdownable thriller format Michaelides has truly worded a gripping novel, arranged in layers of timeline, switching from flashbacks to present, and unfolding a story one never could have imagined. The climax is where the past, present and future intermixes in the subconscious and leads to an unthinkable action.

From a behavioral point of view the readers understand how important the formative years are to an individual. If not rightly managed and controlled, then the bruises inflicted remain lifelong on a subconscious level and emerge at the most unexpected times. Identity crisis and childhood abuse are two of the most common forms of mental torture a child can be subjected to. With society hell bent on having sons than daughters, this mentality crushes the confidence of an individual and pushes a child to existential crisis, inferiority complex and under confidence at a very young age. Since behavioral manifestations work differently for different individuals, it remains an unknown fact how this trauma will be demonstrated later in life. However, even within the understanding of behavioral science one needs to realize that an individual will only act as he/she wants to. Psychological factors are constantly at war with the consciousness in order to bring out a desired action from the individual.

While reading The Silent Patient readers need to take a mental note of the society in which it is set. The Western society is even today far ahead and open when it comes to discussing psychological issues. Almost every school, college, workplace, and institution has an attached counsellor to deliberate on an individual’s mental health. Even counsellors can choose to refer themselves to other counsellors. With an open acceptance in the society, it becomes easy to discuss, deliberate, and recover from any signs of psychological agitation.

This is vastly different from the Indian society where the importance of mental health has gained momentum only in the last 2-3 years. While a lot is indeed debated on paper, sufficient steps to put in place an actionable and strict system to monitor mental health of the individuals have not been achieved. The foremost reason of this backwardness is the age old idea of ‘Log Kya Kahenge?’ and the mental pressure inflicted by the peers and ‘nosy aunties’. These so-called well-wishers have been successful in infiltrating within the household through parents and relatives, barring an individual to talk openly about their mental peace. If the society actually casts away the shame and stigma it would do much good to it and make individuals prosper as wholesome beings.

The Silent Patient is a wonderful take on the importance of mental health, which is a necessity in today’s world. With lockdown / curfew/ isolation/ quarantine being words spoken at the drop of a hat, an individual needs to be equipped enough to channel their thoughts into words or something constructive. Isolation can either shrink the intelligence or if given the right direction, push it for the betterment of the society and individual. Thus it is important to talk about and take necessary steps in keeping oneself fit in a holistic manner not only for oneself but also for people around.

Going beyond the pertinent psychology of the book, however well worded the novel is, for me, the climax failed to work out. At times the narration was slow and disjointed leaving one confused of what the narrator wants to say. Even with the presence of two very powerful characters and their resolutions, the ending failed to strike a chord. Nevertheless, I would still recommend all to read The Silent Patient once to determine what works for you as the storyline is notable and does manage to leave an impression on the reader.

No. of Pages: 339

Publisher: Hachette

Available on: Amazon / Flipkart

Rating: 3/5