Book review: The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

Every cloud has a silver lining – that’s the central thought that drives Pat Peoples throughout The Silver Linings Playbook, and it’s not a bad mantra to live by, although it’s also not the best.

Pat is back home with his loving mum and indifferent, mean dad after an indeterminate amount of time in a ‘neural health facility’. He’s waiting for ‘apart time’ with his wife Nikki to be over. In the meantime, he’s whipping himself into great physical shape, practising being kind rather than right, reading books to better himself, and catching up with the goings-on of his favourite football team. And he’s dealing with depressed Tiffany, the sister-in-law of his best friend, who has taken to following him on his daily runs.

The Silver Linings Playbook is heavy on the football. The parallels with the game are obvious, from the title to the way the different stages of the game match the different stages Pat goes through in his healing process, to the way football affects his life and his relationship with his father. Being British, I don’t know much about American football, so much of the football heavy, technical talk passed me by, but I didn’t feel like I missed anything by not knowing the ins and outs of touchdowns and quarter backs and the like.

But for all its football talk, what The Silver Linings Playbook is really about is a person trying to come to terms with a very different life than the one he thought he’d live. Pat is troubled, clearly. No one will tell him how long he’s been in the neural health facility for, no one will talk about his ex-wife Nikki, no one will acknowledge life went on without him, even though it so clearly did. It would be easy to feel incredible amounts of pity for Pat, and to feel sorry for him as a character.

Instead, Pat’s boundless optimism, rather than making him annoying, makes him a really likeable character. I didn’t feel pity for him, I felt admiration. I was awed at how he was determined to find his silver lining, at how determined he was to get back his ex-wife, how he was trying to better himself (although he really didn’t need to) so he could accomplish his goals. Pat is a character you can’t help but like.

Tiffany, on the other hand, took some work. In the same way that Pat grew to like her because she was simply around all the time and then because of who she was, I grew to like her because she was around all the time and then because of who she was, and because I could see things about her Pat could not. Even when she was acting selfish, even through the whole second half of the novel, I understood her motives, and I still liked her.

Completely unlikeable is Pat’s father, who is actually the one person in the Peoples family who could really do with going to see a psychologist and working through some of his many, many problems.

Quick is great with characterisation, but also clearly put a lot of effort into the structure of The Silver Linings Playbook. It’s largely a traditional first person narrative, but then seems to take a hiatus about two thirds of the way through, at which point it turns into a correspondance between two people, before heading back to its first person narrative. I found the change a little jarring, but I found it worked for the plot of the novel.

Another thing about the structure is the way that it’s so clearly filmic (not an actual word), so it’s easy to see why The Silver Linings Playbook was turned into a movie (which I still need to see). Pat even narrates his life like a film, which really added to the connection I felt with him, since the way he structured his storytelling was so familiar from the many, many Hollywood happy-endings films I’ve seen.

The Silver Linings Playbook is a great read, which made me laugh and want to cry, which was poignant and charming, and which has me looking for every silver lining.

How I got this book: Borrowed from the library

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