Alicia Berenson is a happily married artist making a name in the highly competitive art field and her husband, Gabriel, is a prominent fashion photographer. On the surface, everything seems perfect, until Alicia murders Gabriel. Not only does she shoot him, she shoots him in the face five times. I had to know what drove a seemingly sweet woman to viciously kill the man she loved.
The book begins with an entry from Alicia’s diary and some of the story is told this way. It’s a brilliant device providing insight into the woman’s mind. She writes lovingly about her husband and her difficulties in working on paintings for an upcoming exhibit. Alicia reveals other things as well. Once she has been arrested for the killing, she never speaks another word. However, her last painting, post-murder, is a self-portrait which she names Alcestis. Alcestis is named for the heroine of a Greek myth who willingly sacrificed herself for her husband. What is the connection between the myth and the self-portrait? Without a statement from Alicia, no one knows what drove her to blast her husband in the face.
Judged as suffering from ‘diminished capacity’, that subtle term for insane, Alicia is admitted to a psychiatric hospital called The Grove. This is where things get even more interesting. Told by psychotherapist Theo Faber who feels he can help Alicia, get her to speak and reveal what occurred the evening of the murder, the story takes off at top speed. Faber is determined to reach Alicia; he is almost obsessed. At times he appears to be infatuated with her. He seems to identify with Alicia, their childhood’s bearing similarities. Supervised by Professor Diomedes, forensic psychiatrist and director of The Grove, Faber breaks rules at times, hoping to break through Alicia’s silence. Faber himself is married to an actress, Kathy. Like Alicia’s, his marriage also appears perfect.
The plot is so clever I couldn’t see the direction it was taking. Compelling yet simple, there are characters whose motivations must be questioned throughout. Yuri is a psychiatric nurse who is dedicated to Alicia, Grove manager Stephanie Clark, Indira a consultant psychotherapist, and, Christian, a therapist Faber had worked with at a different institution, and, of course, Professor Diomedes. Add to this a hostile patient and there is a pool of characters with a variety of personal issues.
The deep psychological insight in this book is skillfully applied. Simple enough for the layman to comprehend, without talking down to the reader. In the end, this is a complex and shocking thriller. I loved every word. I hope the author continues to write books to capture and hold my attention the way this one did.
Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.
Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.
Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations—a search for the truth that threatens to consume him….
Alex Michaelides was born in Cyprus to a Greek-Cypriot father and English mother. He has a MA in English Literature from Cambridge University and a MFA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. The Silent Patient is his first novel.