The Silent Patient: Great book; mediocre writing?

I thought I’d have a blog-chat about something completely different this week. Namely, about a novel that everyone in the bookish world appears to be talking about of late: The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelikes.

I’ve read a lot of books this summer holiday, but The Silent Patient is one that I have found almost impossible to rate in terms of those precious stars loved by fans of Amazon and Goodreads. How can a novel be so gripping, yet at the same time have such an unremarkable style of writing? Not that I’m saying all writers should thunder-strike us (new word, that) with highly original, mind-blowing, metaphor-crammed pages. But if a book has gone through all the formidable agent-editor-publisher process that has left so many other writers by the wayside, then can we at least be reassured that the quality of what we are about to read will be top-notch? Especially when we hear that it’s a New York Times’ Best Seller?

Okay, so here goes. The Silent Patient. How to be as honest as I can?

In a nutshell, this book is a thoroughly good read. It’s about a therapist, Theo, who is determined to crack the mystery behind an intriguing patient, Alicia, who has stopped talking since the murder of her husband (by her own hand – and that’s not a spoiler). That’s all I’m saying about the plot. The story is fast-paced, intriguing, clever, with a truly gob-smacking twist at the end. From the point of view of being swept away by a bloody good thriller that you can’t put down, I can understand why many reviewers gave the novel five stars. But it depends what the criteria are for those stars. Perhaps it would be a good idea, one of these days, to have the details of star-criteria displayed on all sites where reviews can be posted. For instance: plot, characterisation, atmosphere, plausibility, use of written language …

Ah, yes, there we go again – use of written language! That is precisely where I found myself stumbling with The Silent Patient, and why I took two stars away from a potential five. Quite frankly, I’m amazed that no other reviewers have commented on this. If the story line had been even a fraction less enticing, I would have put the book down after the first few pages and not re-opened it. I mean, come on, let’s face it  – the writing is, quite simply, clichéd and unimaginative. Just have a look at these examples:

‘It snowed heavily … and the whole of our garden was buried beneath a thick crisp white carpet.’ (Hmm. Didn’t we think up phrases like ‘white carpet’ when practising metaphors in primary school?)

‘A searing, gut-wrenching pain tore through my insides’ (YUK!)

‘Her eyes seemed to burn right through me.’ (Bodice ripper language!!)

‘Ruth shot me a brief, piercing glance’ (Ditto.)

And talk about redundancy! How’s this for an example:

‘Professor Diomedes stared at me with a look of stunned amazement.’ 

Stunned amazement? Oh, for f…’s sake. Words fail me, hence the three dots.

And why does the author have to assume our limited powers of intelligence? When he mentions that Julian McMahon from the Trust (a minor character) has a fondness for phrases like ‘between you and me’ and ‘at the end of the day’, that made me smile, as it sharpened the image of the character in my mind’s eye – or mind’s ear, in this case. But on the very next page, when talking to Julian, our nutty narrator-cum-author says this:

“Between you and me,” I said, borrowing one of his phrases…

Why does he have to add borrowing one of his phrases? It would have been far more effective had he just left the reader to smile at the protagonist’s subtle use of irony.

There are lots and lots of other examples I could quote, if I had the patience to go back to my Kindle and search for all the culpable phrases that I’d previously highlighted. But I’m not going to bother doing that. It’s Sunday evening and I’m itching to pour myself a glass of Rioja and listen to some Pavarotti. Besides, I think I’ve made my point already. If aspects such as beauty, subtlety, irony or originality of language are of utmost importance to you when reading a book, then be warned before reading this one. Or just don’t read it. If, however, a story line that grips you is what is of the utmost importance, then by all means go ahead and read this book.

I fully admit that The Silent Patient cries out to be made into a film, and that I will no doubt be amongst the first to go and see it. You see, I am NOT being a literary snob! I Really did enjoy it, on a certain level. I just hope that the author makes more of a linguistic effort with his next novel.



2 thoughts on “The Silent Patient: Great book; mediocre writing?

  1. Thank you for publishing your thoughts! I just picked this book up and I couldn’t believe how amazingly mediocre the writing was! I found myself exasperated at nearly every paragraph, wincing at the volleys of trite and tired clichés he just kept deploying at me. There’s been three times where I just read a couple pages and I sit the book back down, so unwilling to continue. No one was even mentioning how lackluster the writing was. I skimmed through this so I wouldn’t see any potential spoilers, but I think I’ll continue (to try) giving this book a shot. Thanks for writing.


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