Frank has done something terrible, but he hasn’t told his wife of forty years, Maggie. In fact, he hasn’t actually spoken to her for six months, even though they’ve otherwise continued their lives together as normal. Not a single word, over shared meals or in a shared bed under a shared roof. Over the course of The Silent Treatment, the reasons for Frank’s sudden silence are revealed – and it turns out Maggie has a few reasons for keeping mum, too.
It’s a compelling premise, so I was eager to dive into The Silent Treatment. The story unfolds in a dual narrative, of sorts. First, Frank narrates their love story, telling it to a comatose Maggie in her hospital bed. Then, Maggie’s voice comes to the fore, in a series of letters she wrote to Frank prior to her hospitalisation.
I suppose I can’t really say more without “spoiling” The Silent Treatment. With that in mind, I need to offer a bunch of trigger warnings, each of which represents a major plot point (which is disappointing, I hate it when books are predicated on triggering twists). So, there’s suicide, miscarriage, infertility, post-natal depression, self-harm, addiction – quite the litany, isn’t it?
But The Silent Treatment is a surprisingly wistful read, not at all as sharp as that list of trigger warnings would suggest. I imagine it would hit much harder to highly sensitive readers, but I’m a hardened ol’ cynic (unless something happens to a dog), so it didn’t “move” me the way it moved the writers who blurbed it. The closest I got to tears were the parts that made me want to call my Mum and apologise for being such a stubbonly angsty teenager.
As I read, I found there was too much alluding to the Big Bad Secret(s) the characters were keeping, and not enough propelling me forward to the reveal. A lot of The Silent Treatment could have been avoided if Frank and Maggie had read The Five Love Languages – or just, y’know, talked to each other. As the title suggests, both of them retreat into silence instead of being open with each other and confronting their problems as a team. It doesn’t seem like a particularly happy or healthy marriage, despite how often they declare how happy they are.
Plus, in the end, the “payoff” was lacking. It didn’t clang for me – I was more left thinking “oh, that’s it?”. The Epilogue was a bit trite, too.
Perhaps it’s a case of misleading marketing; the blurb positions The Silent Treatment as a story about a relationship breakdown, but really it’s about how tough it is to (a) deal with infertility and (b) parent an addict. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up if I’d known that going in.
I wanted to like it, but it didn’t live up to the promise of its premise. There are a lot of fascinating reasons why someone might not speak to their spouse for six months, but sadly the reasons for that scenario in The Silent Treatment made it seem mundane. I’m sure there are other readers to whom this book would be better suited, it just wasn’t for me.
My favourite Amazon reviews of The Silent Treatment:
- “I felt no empathy with any of the characters, far too much detail of their feelings for each and far too descriptive of their feelings for their child. All parents feel that way, it is not unusual to love your child and be devastated if they choose the wrongs path in life. Not necessary to write a book about it!” – Amazon Customer
- “This is likely a weepy film. Sentimental codswallop to be honest. Would two people with intelligence and love for each other really make such a hash of all the most important things in their lives? I was hoping for something more nuanced and more true to life but this isn’t that book. Unless you enjoy shamelessly melodramatic weepies with very little plot to them I suggest you avoid this book and find a better use of your time.” – EV
- “I just didn’t believe that two people who professed to love each other so very much could live through a period of six months without talking. It’s just too childish. They were of a similar age to me but had my partner refused to speak to me for any length of time, I’d have walked out, not taken a bunch of tablets that made me into a vegetable. That’s just passive-aggressive.” – MalMonroe