The Silent Patient (2020) – Alex Michaelides

Title:The Silent Patient
Author:Alex Michaelides
Publication date:2019
Star rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer:I was sent a copy of this novel from Jonathan Ball Publishers South Africa in exchange for an honest review

Alicia Berenson was a renowned painter married to Gabriel Berenson, a photographer. Six years ago, at the age of 33, Alicia shot her husband 5 times subsequently killing him. After the shooting she was taken to a psychiatric unit for the criminally insane called The Grove. Since the shooting she has remained completely silent, and no one seems to know why.

Theo Faber is a psychotherapist married to Kathy, an actress. For a little while now Theo has been suspicious of Kathy’s late nights, and is convinced she is having an affair after discovering some rather incriminating emails. Despite his rather tumultuous private life, Theo is also determined to get a job at The Grove and work with the mysterious Alicia Berenson whose silence he believes he can break.

Much like in many recent domestic thrillers, The Silent Patient relies heavily on its, ironically, unreliable narrators. In Michaelides’ thriller the readers are treated to the narration and perspective of both Alicia the silent patient and Theo the therapist who wishes to save her from herself. The Grove, run by the intriguing Dr. Diomedes is reminiscent of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest (1962) with its abundance of staff and patients alike who add color to this morbid setting. When Theo is successfully hired it is under the added pressure of The Grove being very close to being closed down permanently. His initial meeting with the infamous artist is not entirely successful and brings to light Alicia’s very disturbed and often violent tendencies. In contrast Alicia’s own narration and point-of-view is through personal diary entries written before shooting her husband six years prior. As expected all is not as it seems.

To get to the crux of Alicia’s silence Theo takes on the role of both therapist and detective as he begins to track down people involved in the now ‘cold case’. The most intriguing is Alicia’s former business partner gallery owner Jean Felix who claims to be her best friend and yet has never visited The Grove. His gallery still owns several of Alicia’s most prized paintings, including her most famous piece, Alcestis, known for being the last one she ever completed before the murder.

Theo’s investigations also lead him to Alicia’s rather odd cousin Paul and his house-ridden mother Lydia who were responsible for taking care of a young Alicia when her father passed away, and the overly-aggressive Max Berenson her brother-in-law who has a few dirty secrets of his own. It seems everyone including the patients and doctors at The Grove have an opinion and perhaps a detail or two to share about Alicia then and now. Without Alicia’s own voice Theo must rely on her limited communication, the people from her past, and even her paintings to figure out what happened that dreadful day to a woman who shows neither remorse nor guilt, or even shows a desire to prove her own innocence.

Is Alicia guilty? Is she innocent? Michealides’ superb thriller is intense from the first page and often reads like a typical detective story. With so many intriguing characters the reader will at times feel as though they know the outcome as they attempt to put the puzzle pieces together, but I can almost guarantee that the ending will have you gasping, and wishing you could go back and start this delicious thriller all over again. Yes, its that good.

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