Fugitive Fragments

by Mike McGuire

Book review: Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

silver_linings_playbook_cover_book2Did you hear the one about the Irishman who read the book AFTER he saw the movie? Well, he found a different and much more interesting story. And it wasn’t a Rom-Com.

Quick’s debut novel is a brilliant inceptive; a gifted work. It is told in the voice of the main character, thirty-something former teacher Pat, a mental patient who has just been released from a psychiatric facility into his parents care. The use of Pat’s voice for narration is inspired. His childlike utterances are both frank and funny. The author brings the reader inside the jumbled mind of a recovering psychotic who thinks in absolutes and idiosyncrasies. His prominent absolute is his belief in the silver linings that his mother told him about as a child. Pat believes that everything in his life will turn out right if he focuses on improving his mind, keeping fit and being kind (“…kind instead of right”). He sees his life as a real-time movie, playing out to his anticipated ‘Hollywood’ happy ending.

His focal fixate is getting his wife Nikki back but he is prohibited from contact with her by court order. Enter Tiffany, a young widow with her own mental baggage (and agenda) who offers to help him in his quest for Nikki in return for a favor – she needs him to partner her in a dance competition. She has observed him training and considers him physically suitable for her demanding choreography. As they practice for the event we are drawn deeper into the principal characters and their families. Pat’s caring mother is counter-balanced by a father who is emotionally numbed by his son’s illness and ignores him. The barrier between father and son can be eased somewhat by their common allegiance to the local football team and the reader is given a passing education in the frenzied culture of the American National Football League. Tiffany’s family protect her secrets as they try to protect her from herself.

The curtains of Pat’s life slowly draw open to reveal the forgotten genesis of his mental condition. This emergence also alludes to his growing recovery and while Tiffany’s dance therapy has a healing effect on her, both still have their demons to deal with.

Unlike the movie, this is a book about the experiences of the mentally ill and people who touch their lives. It is about flawed people – including ones without mental health conditions. It has the blended bitter-sweetness of being poignant, funny, sad and aspirational. Quick – an English teacher – has written fluidly in language that is easy to read and the chapters are kept short. The plot includes suspense and there are a number of unexpected revelations. Far from romantic, the book suggests a relationship between two people that is based on tenderness, need and compatibility.

There are some parallels with Mark Haddon’s lovely, ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’. Readers who recognize the ‘unreliable narrator’ style will feel right at home.

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18 thoughts on “Book review: Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

  1. I’m not sure which I enjoyed more…your thought provoking and insightful review or your comments lol! I’ve just decided….both! ;)

    • Yunno I never considered that Christina but I suppose that content and comment could indeed be seen as a package. No lol – now I’m going to have to be even more conscious of my replies!

      • LOL It is funny how many people do actually read the comments….I do tend to…if only to not be repetitive! In this case both went together better than peanut butter and jelly…unless you don’t like peanut butter…or jelly…then I’ll have to think of a better metaphor haha!

  2. I’ve been meaning to read this book, and now you’ve convinced me to do so. I recently saw the film, and was disappointed, given all the Oscar buzz. (But I’m frequently disappointed by Oscar buzz so I don’t know why this surprises me.) Well, off to the library…

  3. Mike,
    I’m glad I read this. I really wanted to see the movie, but you made me want to read the book first. Well-written review, BTW

    • Thank you muchly. You’ll still enjoy the movie after the book provided you don’t expect a match – the Cooper/Lawrence pairing is very entertaining to watch (and a laugh).

  4. I loved the movie looked up the writer. I was pleased to see it was a book first.
    You hit on the most remarkable fact. The writer was an English teacher and yet he didn’t overwork his words. The simplicity of thought came through in the movie and therein lies its charm.

    • Perhaps his is a trait that comes from interacting with children but you’re quite right, he would have had to consciously decide the language in advance. Another factor could be the unembellished voices of of the mentally ill.

  5. I have neither seen the film nor read the book, Mike. But I have read your illuminating review. And for that I thank you! I too have written a debut novel about mental illness (among other themes), and I from what you say my own work is the complete antithesis of Matthew Quick’s, ie “written fluidly in language that is easy to read and the chapters are kept short”. Hmm, I’m guessing you’ve put your finger on why Hollywood hasn’t been knocking on my door, offering options on post-theatrical release DVD sales etc. Ha! :)

  6. I tried numerous times to catch the lauded film in theatres but never managed to see it. Glad to have read your review, Mike. Definitely will read before I watch!

    • Good that you’ll read the book first Brent. The movie isn’t bad (quite good actually) just packaged differently to fit a box office genre. Lawrence’s Oscar winning performance is still worth seeing.

  7. It sounds deep and complex. Does it have a happy ending..

    • To the contrary, it is neither deep or complex N-L and sorry if I gave that impression. While I try not to give spoilers in my reviews I can indicate that it has a very acceptable ending.

  8. Thanks for reviewing this. I watched the film, thought it okay. But you’ve made me interested to read the book… provided I can find one without the film image on the book jacket. I do so hate those :-)

    • Being an author yourself I have no doubt that you’ll get much out of this fine book Jackie. Can’t do anything about the cover but if you get the eBook you can fashion/fasten your own coverart (:

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