One of the best things about being a book reviewer is receiving new novels to review (I’m not sure our lovely postman agrees). It’s even better if the novel in question is brilliant, which The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides most definitely is.
Michaelides is a successful scriptwriter (his credits include The Devil You Know, starring Rosamund Pike) but The Silent Patient is his first novel. He was inspired to write it while he was doing a postgraduate course in psychotherapy and working part-time at a secure psychiatric unit.
The Silent Patient is one of those novels that feels self-assured from the very first page. It’s the story of Alicia Berenson, a painter who lives a gilded life with her glamorous fashion photographer husband Gabriel on the edge of London’s Hampstead Heath. The sting in the tale is that Alicia’s life has imploded. One evening, Gabriel returns late from a fashion shoot and for some inexplicable reason Alicia shoots him dead. She never speaks another word and is admitted to a secure forensic unit called The Grove.
That’s where Theo Faber comes in. A forensic psychotherapist who has long been fascinated by the case, he’s determined to find out what happened on the night of Gabriel’s murder and why Alicia has refused to speak for five years.
I started The Silent Patient early one evening and was so gripped that I continued reading till dawn, repeatedly promising myself “just one more chapter”. It’s a smart and sophisticated psychological thriller, yet refreshingly easy to read. The chapters are short and snappy, with well-drawn, believable characters. Best of all is the twist at the end of the novel, which made me catch my breath in astonishment. I genuinely never saw that one coming – which is more than you can say for most thrillers.
Not surprisingly, the book has been sold in 30 countries around the world and the film rights have been optioned too. The only downside is that The Silent Patient won’t hit the bookshops till February 2019. I promise you, it’s well worth the wait.
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides (Orion, £12.99)
As well as reading novels I spend lots of my spare time going to literary festivals and author events. After all, if you’ve enjoyed a novel, there’s nothing better than hearing the writer talk about their work.
Kate Atkinson, whose new novel, Transcription, was published earlier this month, has been doing an author tour and I managed to get an invitation to one of her events. The occasion was the BBC’s World Book Club, where presenter Harriett Gilbert was hosting a discussion about Atkinson’s earlier bestselling novel, Life After Life.
During the interview, Atkinson was charming and frank and gave fascinating insights into how she writes. One reader asked how she keeps track of her plots (Life After Life is the story of Ursula Todd, who lives her life over and over again) and Atkinson revealed that she keeps everything “in my head”. “I love structure,” she said, “but I don’t feel the need to structure first.”
Atkinson, whose favourite authors include Penelope Fitzgerald, Muriel Spark, Elizabeth Taylor and Barbara Pym, also mentioned in passing that she has a “recurrent desire to revisit Fox Corner”. The audience murmured approvingly. Fox Corner is the family house in Life After Life so if Atkinson does “revisit” it we’ll be in for a treat. Fingers crossed
The hour-long discussion will be broadcast on the BBC World Service on Sunday October 7.
As this week’s column has a book focus, the novel I’m eagerly waiting to get my hands on is Robert Galbraith’s new Cormoran Strike novel, Lethal White. The fourth novel from Galbraith (aka JK Rowling) is out on September 18 and sounds like another winner. By the way, if you’ve only seen the BBC adaptations of the earlier Cormoran Strike novels make sure you read the books themselves. The plots are far more detailed and the characters are far more complex (although Cormoran and Robin are just as likeable) – a classic example of books knocking spots off the screen version.