Alex Michaelides- The Silent Patient

Alicia Berenson writes a diary as a release, an outlet – and to prove to her beloved husband that everything is fine. She can’t bear the thought of worrying Gabriel, or causing him pain. Until, late one evening, Alicia shoots Gabriel five times and then never speaks another word.

Forensic psychotherapist Theo Faber is convinced he can successfully treat Alicia, where all others have failed. Obsessed with investigating her crime, his discoveries suggest Alicia’s silence goes far deeper than he first thought. And if she speaks, would he want to hear the truth?

Okay, so this book is all over Twitter and elsewhere, leaving a host of swooning and excited reviewers in its wake. Normally, having been scarred by two books that had a similar amount of adulation last year, I wouldn’t have read this. But I did. And what a little treat it was. I thought this was one of the most perfectly weighted, tense and engrossing thrillers I have read of late, complete with one of the best twists in the narrative that had me sitting back on my seat, thinking jeez, that was clever…

Michaelides builds the relationship with damaged, and seemingly non-responsive patient Alicia, and her would be knight in shining armour psychotherapist Theo with such stealth and empathy. Along with Alicia’s account of her life garnered from her diaries, and our growing sympathy with Theo trapped in a faithless marriage, the story begins to tease out each character’s points of weakness. Theo sees unlocking  Alicia’s psyche as not only the greatest challenge of his professional career, but also revealing his utter fascination with the crime she committed and how this has locked her into her silent world. Very slowly, as Theo starts to break down this non-communicative barrier, with his one-to one sessions with her, against the advice of practically everyone, there comes to light a dark tale of obsession that holds many surprises, of which I will tell you…nothing…

I really enjoyed the level of psychoanalytic detail that Michaelides incorporates in his account of Alicia’s treatments in this private facility, The Grove, on the brink of closure and whose treatment programmes operate at the whim of financial spreadsheets. Aside from the intensity of the relationship between Theo and Alicia, the book is peopled with an interesting, sometimes sympathetic, sometimes not, characters that bring a vibrancy and energy to the claustrophobia of the main plot. There are surprising peeks into the lives of others, and the book retains a balance of seriousness, and mordant humour so essential to those that treat individuals with extreme mental disturbance.

There I will leave it, as to reveal anything more would cut your enjoyment of this by at least 99.9%, but take it from me, this is well worth your time, and did I mention the twist…

Recommended.

(With thanks to Orion Books for the ARC)

 

 

Blog Tour- Iain Maitland- Sweet William

JUST ONE CHANCE

NOW OR NEVER …

Sweet William is a breathtakingly dark thriller that spans forty-eight hours in the life of a desperate father and a three-year-old child in peril, who needs insulin to stay alive. It tells a story of mental illness, a foster family under pressure, and an angry father separated from his adored little boy…

Rarely will you encounter a book that puts its reader through such an emotional wringer so consistently and unrelentingly, as Sweet William does. From its opening depiction of a convicted murderer, Raymond Orrey, escaping from a supposedly secure mental unit, in a quest to locate his estranged little boy, Maitland’s rat-a-tat prose, and breathless and highly unreliable first person narration from Orrey, leads you on a dark journey in the company of a deeply disturbed individual. As Orrey traverses the country in order to track down his son, violence is never far away, despite Orrey’s own cool, calm and disarming justification of the actions he takes on route…

With a background in journalism, and particularly in the reporting of mental health issues, there is no better writer to immerse us in the dark workings of Orrey’s conscience and psyche. Maitland never fails to convey to the reader what seems to us the shambolic and irrational thought processes of Orrey, but by the same token depicting Orrey’s moments of clarity and clear thinking so resonant of mental disturbance. I found the thinking and over-thinking of Orrey punctuated by extremely disturbing flashes of violence, extremely compelling, as he takes stock of each obstacle in his way, and how to deal with them. It’s interesting how Maitland consistently imbues Orrey with moments of total lucidity in terms of how people behave in certain situations, but how his darker reasoning precludes him from keeping to this path, with the holy grail of being reunited with his son leading him on. Orrey’s stream of consciousness is at times exhausting to read with its taut structure, and unrelenting pace, but perfectly fits the chaotic state of his mind. I was captivated by the utter bleakness of Orrey’s existence, whilst recognising the dangerous impulses that define him as a man and a father.

Although, there is a parallel story playing out regarding William’s foster parents, and their struggles with his medical condition, overall I was far less engaged with this, although it was necessary to place Orrey’s former deeds in context. The depiction of a family in crisis with conflicting voices and ideas as to the raising of William was neatly portrayed, and the simmering tension between the protagonists was palpable throughout. However, as events played out, it was Orrey’s moments of crisis, self doubt or overt bullishness, that held my attention, right up until the extremely ambiguous ending, which teases the reader into filling in their own finale. Although not in subject matter but in tone and feel, the book reminded me very much of Jon McGregor’s brilliant novel Even The Dogs, where gaps in the narrative allow the reader in, to second guess the protagonist, something that Maitland achieves here too with some aplomb. An emotive and exhausting reading experience, but utterly worth it. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Saraband for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites: