The Malta Independent 16 May 2022, Monday

This season’s thriller with a twist

Noel Grima Tuesday, 21 December 2021, 11:02 Last update: about 6 months ago

The silent patient. Author: Alex Michaelides. Publisher: Orion / 2019. Pages: 342pp

The Silent Patient is a 2019 psychological thriller written by British-Cypriot author Alex Michaelides. It explores art, love and evil from a bold perspective.

The story is set in modern-day England. Alicia Berenson lives a seemingly happy life with her husband in North London. She works as an artist, creating graphic works of art that describe the perils of her everyday life.

Everything seems perfect in the Berenson household until one fateful evening when Alicia's husband is found dead with multiple gunshots in his head and Alicia's fingerprints on the gun. The crime seems clear cut: an upset wife murders her husband.

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However, Alicia has not spoken a single word to anyone since the murder and refuses to say anything to shed light on what happened that night. During the trial, she paints a fascinating work which shows her standing naked before her easel, looking back at those who would observe the painting with haunted eyes. The work is labelled Alcestis.

Her silence is interpreted as an admission of guilt and she is sentenced to life imprisonment in a forensic unit known as the Grove, where she soon becomes infamously known as the "silent patient".

Everything about this case seems to be fully resolved, but psychotherapist Theo Faber soon becomes fixated on Alicia's case and leaves his job to work closer to Alicia, hoping he would be the one to break her silence.

With intermittent entries from Alicia's personal diary to break up Theo's narration, the author carefully builds suspense. Each new page contains a snippet of new information to unlock the secret to Alicia's silence.

A surprising technique in this novel is the use of allusions to classical texts, such as references to Alcestis by Euripides. The haunting, cryptic tragedy tells about a woman who is brought back to life but refuses to speak.

The intersection of these allusions with contemporary themes asks important questions about marital struggles, mental health and contemporary art.

You get to turn page after page, chapter after chapter, but still do not see the final twist coming until it hits you hard and fast.


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