The Silent Treatment, by Abbie Greaves, tells the story of Frank and Maggie, a married couple who have been together for forty years. Despite continuing to live in the same house – eating and sleeping together – Frank hasn’t spoken to Maggie for the past six months. He has a secret that he fears, if shared, would drive her away. Meanwhile, she has reached the end of her tether.
The prologue describes events that result in Maggie’s hospitalisation. While there in an induced coma, Frank is encouraged by medical staff to talk to her that his familiar voice may help draw her into recovery. Thus the reader learns how they met, married and the difficulties they faced through their many years together.
The book is divided into two main parts: the couple’s life story as told by Frank at Maggie’s bedside, then the same story written in a journal by Maggie in the week before her hospitalisation. As may be expected, the two points of view have differences in perspective.
There is an urgency to the first part that I found lacking in the second. Both, however, are leading to key revelations. By the time these were divulged I had grown bored by the buildup. The bar of expectation had been raised to such a height it felt overworked.
Both accounts present an almost too perfect marriage. Serious difficulties encountered over the decades are acknowledged but the memories recounted are mostly frolicsome and adoring. Frank and Maggie each blame themselves for any shadows cast. Frank’s silence may be recent but they had never spoken freely. The love they retained for each other could not make up for their inability to communicate.
There is a third key character – the couple’s daughter, Eleanor. She is adored by both her parents. I found it draining to read of their pain when she started to pull away. As a parent, the impotence and despair experienced when a child is hurting but will not accept help, resonated.
There were minor inconsistencies – niggles – in Maggie’s journal entries. She wrote that she never did feel at home in a particular role yet then described it as the happiest time of her life. Perhaps this is how personal memories are always massaged.
Although I liked what the author did in the final few paragraphs it did not assuage my impatience with the structure. Many readers have raved about this novel but to me it felt bloated – the reveal not meriting the buildup. A shame, but it was not for me.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Century (an imprint of Penguin Random House)