Source: Review copy
Publication: 7th February 2019 from Orion
Alicia Berenson writes a diary as a release, an outlet – and to prove to her beloved husband that everything is fine. She can’t bear the thought of worrying Gabriel, or causing him pain.
Until, late one evening, Alicia shoots Gabriel five times and then never speaks another word.
Forensic psychotherapist Theo Faber is convinced he can successfully treat Alicia, where all others have failed. Obsessed with investigating her crime, his discoveries suggest Alicia’s silence goes far deeper than he first thought.
And if she speaks, would he want to hear the truth?
It’s been a long time coming, my spot on this blog tour, especially for a book I have had since last summer. So, has it been worth the wait? That’s an unqualified yes.
What makes this book special isn’t the rather brilliant twist, or the incredible marketing campaign, or even the fact that you want to read it in one sitting – making it the very definition of ‘unputdownable’.
No, for me what make this book work so well are the detailed, beautifully drawn characters. For a debut novel, this is an incredibly assured piece of writing.
A terrible murder has been committed. A man, Gabriel Berenson, lies dead, cruelly shot in the face 5 times and beside him, his wife Alicia, a woman who allegedly loved her husband completely, and who has not spoken a word since they were found together.
After a plea on her behalf by her solicitor of diminished responsibility, artist Alicia Berenson is committed to The Grove, a smallish psychiatric facility in North London.
Theo Faber, a forensic psychotherapist working in prisons believes he could be the man to get Alicia to open up and so when the chance comes to work at The Grove, he leaps at it.
What follows is a slow and suspenseful build-up of two flawed characters whose lives and backgrounds are slowly peeled away, like dense layers of painted wallpaper in an old house. The only problem is that as the layers expose the plaster underneath, it’s all too visible that some of the foundation work is crumbling.
Alicia may not be talking, but she has left behind a self-portrait, painted whilst awaiting trial, in which she paints herself as Alcestis, the fairest daughter of Pelias (he who sent Jason after the Golden Fleece). According to Greek Mythology, Alcestis’ husband Admetus incurred the wrath of Artemis and was condemned to death, but Apollo managed to get the Fates to agree that if anyone would stand in for him, and suffer death for him, Admetus would survive.
What is the meaning of Alicia’s painting and how can Theo begin to unlock the secrets Alicia’s painting is hiding?
Alex Michaelides prods and explores his characters with forensic efficiency, revealing just enough to keep us hooked as the backstory of his characters is told and their psychology explored. Using a diary that Alicia gives him, Theo sets out to explore her past and those with whom she was associated.
Determined that the answer to Alicia’s present silence must lie in her troubled past, Theo will stop at nothing to question anyone who was a part of Alicia’s life. Both these characters have had difficult upbringings and it is no wonder that Theo feels that by helping Alicia he can also help himself.
Beautifully imaginative and intelligently written, this is more than just another psychological thriller; it is a well-drawn character study of two people with very different and difficult stories to tell.
Verdict: An exceptional debut made by the intelligent prose and captivating characters.
Alex Michaelides was born in Cyprus in 1977 to a Greek father and English mother. He studied English literature at Cambridge University and got his MA in screenwriting at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. He wrote the film The Devil You Know (2013) starring Rosamund Pike and co-wrote The Brits are Coming (2018), starring Uma Thurman, Tim Roth, Parker Posey and Sofia Vergara. THE SILENT PATIENT is his first novel.