Book Review: The Silent Patient (2019) by Alex Michaelides

The Silent Patient - Alex Michaelides

Alicia Berenson is an Enigma

An artist. Painter. A beautiful and fragile one. With those feather-like hands Alicia shot her own husband, Gabriel. Five times, in the face. Gabriel was bound to a dining chair in his and Alicia’s living room. The neighbors found that Alicia was the one holding the gun. Staring blankly, refusing to speak.

Leaving the real story behind the murder to be a mystery.

But Alicia did leave one clue. Just one. A self-painting she made after the murder, Alcestis. In that piece, Alicia was staring at the viewer, nude, holding a brush and color palette, in front of a canvas.

That’s it.

The trial deemed Alicia as mentally unstable. They put Alicia in a mental facility located at North London, The Grove. Alicia’s still refusing to speak, six years after the shocking event.

Some people may have forgotten the infamous Alicia, but not for Theo Faber. Working as a professional psychotherapist, Theo found himself engrossed by the tragic story of Alicia Berenson.

Theo felt that though silent, Alicia is screaming for his help.

And that’s what Theo’s going to do. To finally make the silent patient speaks.

You’re in deep with Alicia, and your feelings are bound up with hers like a tangled ball of wool.

The Silent Patient by Alex michaelides

Theo Faber is a Psychotherapist

In the Silent Patient, Michaelides puts a psychology-related professional as the main character. Theo Faber was a psychotherapist. He’s coming from a quite-dysfunctional family himself: his dad was a dictator and his mom was too weak to speak up and protect her only child, Theo.

Through his own psychotherapy journey with her mentor, Ruth, Theo tried to find his own life–far away from the house where he grew up. He’s married to the love of his life, Kathy, and during his work as a therapist, he found himself interested with the mysterious case of Alicia Berenson–a female painter who shot his own husband in the face and refused to speak afterwards.

I believe the same is true for most people who go into mental health. We are drawn to this particular profession because we are damaged – we study psychology to heal ourselves.

The Silent Patient by Alex michaelides

Theo’s curiosity brought him to The Grove, a soon-to-be-closed mental health facility at the North London. Compared to the position that Theo had at his previous job, The Grove seemed like a downgrade, but Theo did it anyway. He applied himself to The Grove and demanded to be put as a person responsible to interview Alicia Berenson, the silent patient.

At first, nothing seemed to be able to break Alicia’s invisible wall. Theo tried to do everything that he could think of to make Alicia speaks, even things a psychotherapist won’t normally do. He visited Alicia’s childhood home and met with her estranged aunt and male-cousin. He interviewed her solicitor (Gabriel’s step brother), and her said-best friend that also the owner of the gallery that displayed her paintings – including her latest and most eccentric one, Alcestis.

After some time, Theo’s actions put everyone around him concerned. They accused Theo of being in love with Alicia. After all, Alicia wasn’t only beautiful and fragile, she’s also a borderline personality with a murder record. She’s a magnet that attracts.

But what kind of person that she trapped with her charm? What does it say about Theo, then? When Alicia finally speaks, what words that Theo wants to hear?

I don’t believe a therapist can ever really be a blank slate, as he intended. We leak all kinds of information about ourselves unintentionally – by the colour of my socks, or how I sit, or the way I talk.

The Silent Patient by Alex michaelides

Dark, Mental, and Mellow

My friend, Sila, introduced me with Alex Michaelides‘ works. I read the author’s latest book first, titled The Maidens (2021). I love how Michalides tells a story – beautifully arranged to mimic the Greek tragedies with his own touch: a plot twist that the reader would remember for a long time.

I remember reading The Maidens, feeling a bit bored in the first half but quite intrigued with the mention of Persephone, the Greek goddess, and the in-depth explanation of the main character’s work as a group-therapist. I like how Michaelides concluded the ending, his storytelling style speaks well to me (I call it dark, mental, and mellow), so I read his debut work soon after that, The Silent Patient (2019).

Sila said that The Silent Patient is the best of Michaelides’ so far, and I must say that I’m agree.

I tried so hard not to spoil the story here, because plot is the powerful part of Michaelides’ writings. At first, reading his story felt like a mystery game which you are presented with all the possible suspects and his/her motives. If you’re a solving-the-mystery kind of reader, I suggest you to read the book slowly and pay attention to a statement or a theme that are repeated by Michaelides.

I’ll give you one clue for the Silent Patient, you could skip this if you’re afraid of spoiler:

Alcestis is the name of a female character in a Greek tragedy (another Michalides’ signature). It’s a story about a man who’s told to die by the god, and he pleaded the god not to. The man’s wife, Alcestis, volunteered herself to take his place, and the man said nothing to object this. Alcestis died, went to the underworld, but came back not long after to the human world. The man asked her many things, but Alcestis didn’t say a word. She never speaks anymore to her husband or to anyone.

The Silent Patient - Alex Michaelides
The Silent Patient – Alex Michaelides

A Movie in Talk?

Soon after I finished reading The Silent Patient, I googled for the possibility of the book’s movie adaption. Alex Michaelides was a former screenwriter, so I think the possibility is high. And I was right, it seems that the story has captured the attention of Brad Pitt (go, Pitt!) and Annapurna Pictures, and I hope that everything goes well with the pandemic situation and everything.

I’m a bit concerned with how the story will be told through movie, though, since The Silent Patient is a kind of story that requires a limited exposure of some of the events in order for the reader to totally enjoy the story. Through writings, everything is perfect, but a visual one would reveal things that can’t be revealed too soon.

In short, I’m so excited, can’t stop thinking about it.

Poke me if you’re also a fan of Michalides’ works!

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