Alicia Berenson’s otherwise perfect life rots overnight as the famous painter is accused of murdering her fashion photographer husband. 5 gunshots straight to the head and no one could ever find the motive. Why? Because the accused and also the only witness, Alicia, has stopped talking. Zipped. Full stop. Not a single word she has spoken since the arrest and curiosity is aroused in everyone as she becomes the infamous Silent Patient.
The story starts with Alicia’s diary. She lives in a posh locality of London, in a luxurious apartment with big windows, and is happily married to Gabriel. In short, a fairy tale love story with all the ingredients of a lived-happily-ever-after. Then how could she kill Gabriel? The domestic tragedy makes the headlines of every newspaper as Alicia refuses to talk or give any explanation for her heinous crime. The trials go on, leaving the public cocooned in their queer imagination and thereby casting Alicia into notoriety. While the nation is still intrigued, Alicia is now very far from the limelight, all alone in The Groves, undergoing psychiatric treatment.
Theo Faber is the newly appointed psychotherapist at The Groves and is somehow adamant to handle Alicia’s case. He feels connected to Alicia and believes that he can make her talk again. While fleshing out every possible chance to come closer to Alicia as the story moves on, Theo becomes more of a detective than a psychotherapist. He pores through every possible relations Alicia has. Be it with Max, Gabriel’s brother, who has a deplorable past with Alicia; with Jean-Felix, Alicia’s gallery manager, or with Paul, Alicia’s cousin who dishes up Alicia’s troubled childhood for Theo. Every character that comes into the picture has something to hide, has had some kind of confrontation with Alicia. Be it over sexual advantages or for money, they all brew doubts in the reader’s mind. And amidst everything, Alicia’s last painting, which she has named Alcestis, holds an incomprehensible mystery in itself. Parallely, Theo’s story goes along. His troubled childhood with an abusive father seems to be drawing him closer to Alicia. Kathy is the love of his life. However, one night Theo uncovers Kathy’s clandestine affair with another man. Theo never confronts Kathy but follows the man and finds him to be married too.
The other characters in The Grove too have their twisted tales to offer. One of Theo’s colleague, Dr. West is found to be seeing Alicia privately before all the humdrum. Yuri, one of the assistants has been supplying drugs to the inmates. Elif, another patient, is always badgering Alicia for God knows why. The chief of the institution, Diomedes lives in a constant fear of the institution shutting down. And what about Theo? While he alternates between his adulterous wife and his determination to make Alicia talk, the story takes a whole new turn. Alicia finally starts speaking and reveals about a mysterious man following her and blames the man to be the murderer. Soon, someone attempts to kill Alicia. Why and more importantly, who can do that inside the institution? In this course of making the Silent Patient talk, Theo Faber has now come onto a peculiar path of truth, a truth that has been waiting to ravage his own life.
Given the background of Alex Michaelides as a screenwriter, this novel is slow paced-detailing every minuscule ingredient and sometimes meanders (mainly in Alicia’s initial diary entries). It lets the readers sink into every scene, very much like a movie. The Silent Patient is a gripping psycho-thriller where every character wears a pretentious mask and carries an ax to grind behind the facade. A complete page-turner, each more intriguing with the best saved for the last. It leaves you with the feeling of ‘you can never actually know what goes on inside a human mind’.
Book: The Silent Patient
Author: Alex Michaelides
Reviewer: Atrayee Bhattacharya, Criticspace Journal