Alicia Berenson was just thirty-three years old when she killed her husband but since her arrest, she has remained silent. So while she has been convicted, to this day she has never spoken about the terrible night in question. In fact, she has not spoken at all, just painted. We have to rely on the narrator, Theo Faber, to unravel the tale for us.
Who is Theo Faber?
For years growing up Theo prayed for a life without his father; for a life without his belt and mood swings hanging gloomily over him. When he gained a place at University, Theo believed this was his chance to escape. Unfortunately, years of torment can’t be whisked away overnight, instead, all the conversations, arguments and physical attacks were buried deep within his subconscious. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why, not only did he train to become a psychotherapist, he also felt that Alicia was a kindred spirit, one that only he could help.
“Without wishing to sound boastful, I felt uniquely qualified to help Alicia Berenson. I’m a forensic psychotherapist and used to working with some of the most damaged, vulnerable members of society. And something about Alicia’s story resonated with me personally _ I felt a profound empathy with her right from the start. ” (page 15).
It is because of this self-assured belief that he alone can help Alicia that Theo moves from his successful role at Broadmoor to The Grove.
The Grove supports females with mental illness often brought on from years of abuse, the pain of which is clearly etched on each of their faces. Nothing, however, surprises Theo more than the look of Alicia. After all these years, he was still expecting her to look as she did before the murder but that beautiful woman has disappeared. In her place was someone in bad shape, unrecognizable, “too thin, and looked unclean”. Looking at her now, is there any way he is going to be able to get her to open up, to speak about what happened the night she murdered her loving husband.
“Alicia won’t talk in six weeks or sixty years… You’re wasting your time.” (page 89).
Theo’s own mindful state, however, is questionable. His upbringing remains a tortured subject for him and it seems to have a continued effect on his life – both inside and outside of the workplace. So is he really the best person to help Alicia? Perhaps he believes that one damaged soul can help another.
As the narrative unfolds we find out more about both Alicia and Theo; their lives laid bare for all to read about. We discover that perhaps both of them are more similar than they would like to admit. Difficult childhoods, angry fathers, distant partners. It all unravels during his therapy sessions leading you to wonder who the true patient is.
Relationships are the main theme of The Silent Patient, with Theo’s marriage also being a focus. How he deals with stressful, painful issues in one relationship might hold significant insight into how he reacts to interactions with people in general. Should he really be trying to help others?
My Thoughts on The Silent Patient
Alex Michaelides’s novel may be a debut but he writes like a master of his genre. The twists throughout the story really do hit you like a sledgehammer. Just when you think you might be able to predict what is going to happen next, something else comes along to quash those thoughts. In an age where so many thrillers have become predictable, The Silent Patient really does stand out in a league all of its own.
Several people had told me, before reading this, that for them it was the book of the year, and it is difficult to disagree. I only hope that we will be seeing more from Alex Michaelides in the future.