The Silent Patient
Review: Chantel Erfort
Years after artist Alicia Berenson killed her husband Gabriel, she still refuses to, or is unable to, speak.
And despite many other professionals in the field of mental health care having given up on ever getting through to Alicia, psychotherapist Theo Faber believes he will be able to and is determined to help her deal with the tragic events of the night of her husband’s death.
So determined is he, in fact, that he finds a way to get a job at The Grove, the North London institution where Alicia is being treated and whose future hangs in the balance as patient numbers decline and the operating trust counts its losses.
This is six years after Alicia was admitted there for treatment and in that time, she has not uttered a word and has attempted suicide numerous times.
With a seemingly promising career ahead of him, there are those who wonder why “just call me Theo” Faber would leave his job at Broadmoor Hospital for The Grove.
After all, rats don’t usually jump on a sinking ship… they’d rather escape it, he is warned.
But Faber has a dogged determination to get close to Alicia and initially I wondered whether he was perhaps an obsessed fan of her art.
Soon after starting at The Grove, Faber convinces clinical director Professor Lazarus Diomedes to allow him a shot at treating Alicia, and after some masterful manipulation, he is given the go-ahead to engage her in solo art therapy. His reasoning is that if she won’t speak with words, she may do so through her artwork.
As the story progresses, Faber extends his role from psychotherapist to investigator, turning to Alicia’s bitter aunt Lydia Rose, cousin Paul and a host of other supporting cast to paint the context that led to Alicia killing the love of her life. But ultimately it is Alicia’s art and her carefully kept journal which play the most significant role in filling in the missing pieces of the puzzle.
Narrated by Faber, the story is interspersed with entries from Alicia’s diary which give us a glimpse into her personal life – and give her a voice in the absence of her being able or willing to speak for herself.
Faber also lets the reader into his own life and the intersection of his story and Alicia’s was so unexpected, I literally gasped.
In addition to being a gripping, easy-to-read suspense thriller, The Silent Patient is a fascinating character study of the impact of trauma, explores the concept of countertransference – which is the therapist’s reaction to his patient’s experience or contribution – and gives the reader a harrowing look into the psychology of a person betrayed by a loved one.
The Silent Patient, Michaelides’ debut novel, is currently being adapted for the big screen.