The Silent Patient
Author: Alex Michaelides
This book was another recommendation by a friend. Before I decided to read it, I checked the typical websites and found it was rated 4.07 at Goodreads and was their #1 Choice for 2019. It was rated 4.5 at Barnes & Noble and was listed as a New York Times #1 Best Seller. I also stumbled across some websites indicating Brad Pitt has optioned the book for a movie. And although the author has previously worked on Hollywood films as a screenwriter, those are pretty good achievements for a first novel! Okay, I’m in for the read.
This story takes place in current day London, England, and centers around Alicia Berenson, a famous painter who almost certainly shot and killed her fashion photographer husband, Gabriel. Shortly after the shooting, Alicia created a strange painting that is likely related to the killing itself, but the meaning of the painting is indecipherable. Add to the mystery that from the time of the vicious murder, Alicia has refused to speak. The other main character, Theo Faber, is a criminal psychotherapist who is focused on Alicia and her situation presumably because of his academic interest in her refusal or inability to speak. He manages to become part of the staff at The Groves, the secure psychiatric unit where Alicia was sent after her trial, where gradually he begins to work with her and researches her background.
As the story unfolds, we find out details about Theo. We follow him in his search for information about Alicia, and along the way, we learn about his painful childhood, his marriage situation, and his personality. And as he digs into Alicia’s previous life, we also find out details about her presumably happy marriage and her difficult childhood. Outside of work and in his search to understand Alicia, Theo interviews Alicia’s few family members and a former associate from the art world. On the surface, the mystery seems to be why Alicia won’t speak and why she murdered her husband. But there is more to the story than that, and kudos to the author, who is able to spin this tale out to its surprising and complicated conclusion without giving away the surprise until the end.
Included in the weave of the fabric of this tale is a repeated reference to an ancient Greek tragic play, Alcestis by Euripides. In fact, Alicia’s last painting is entitled “Alcestis.” It turns out the author of this novel is half British and half Greek, so his knowledge of Greek tragedy was not entirely out of left field, and this reference turns out to be one of the keys to the murder. But you don’t have to be a fan of Greek tragic plays to figure it out – just wait until the author does it for you. It’s a fun and thrilling ride to the end. I read the Kindle version of this book, but I understand the audio version is also quite good. Happy reading!