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The Silent Patient

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Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.

Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.

Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations—a search for the truth that threatens to consume him….

Synopsis source: Goodreads


Genre(s): Contemporary, Mystery/Thriller, Psychological Thriller
HB&W Rating: 4
View on Goodreads
Buy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Whoa, that was quite fun! If you’ve followed me long enough on Goodreads, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of thrillers, particularly the psychological variety. I love a good mind screw now and then and am always challenging myself to see if I can figure it out before the ending.

The story is told by Theo Faber, a criminal psychotherapist who has been obsessed with the infamous painter Alicia Berensen, but as he says in the beginning, this is not his story, but hers. Silent since that fateful night, we are given insight to her thoughts leading up to the night she shot her husband through her diary entries. But while it is a first-hand account, is it the true account? Is she being truthful, or is she skewing the entries for whoever might later read them? Was there really someone following her, or was it all in her head as her husband assumes? And if someone was watching her all that time, who?

As you will see, it’s an incredible story–of that there is no doubt. Whether you believe it or not is up to you.

With insights into the madness that is so frequently associated with creative genius, Mr. Michaelides takes us deep into the hidden depths of the human psyche to explain how early childhood experiences can motivate our behavior as adults. He touches on the various human emotions of love, hate, jealousy, anxiety, etc and how in conjunction with those early childhood experiences, drive us to certain acts, like shooting your husband five times in the face.

When I’m around other people, even if it’s only the bored waitress in here, I feel connected to the world somehow, like a human being.

Otherwise, I’m in danger of ceasing to exist. Like I might disappear.

On the other side of that coin is how best to treat patients suffering from various psychological impairments. It’s clear that Theo’s methods align with some of his colleagues’ methods and clash with others’.

The problem is we’ve become too risk averse, we’d rather overmedicate than take any chances. We need to be brave enough to sit with the madness, to hold it–instead of trying to lock it up.

I also found it interesting to watch as his therapy sessions with the silent Alicia unfolded. Many, when faced with silence in the company of others feel an intrinsic need to fill that silence with chatter, usually giving up more information in those circumstances than they would have otherwise. It made me think of my former boss, who during interviews would ask a question, then sit in silence, without even a flicker of emotion to betray his thoughts when the applicant would reply. After they replied, the applicant would be treated to his long silence then inevitably fill it, which was what he had been hoping for. It’s very telling, not to mention unnerving when faced with it. I told him so once and he just smiled at me, knowingly. That’s how most people would have probably reacted in Theo’s position, unless you are a trained psychotherapist. He realized quickly that her silence would extract different reactions from him, telling him more about himself than about her.

But that’s what Alicia did for you. Her silence was like a mirror–reflecting yourself back at you.

And it was often an ugly sight.

If, like me, you’ve read your fair share of psychological thrillers, then you will probably be able to figure out the ending of this read, but even so, seeing how the author lets everything play out is just so interesting, you won’t care that you’ve already guessed the ending.

The chapters are quick and intoxicatingly addictive. You’ll find yourself saying just one more chapter so often that you’ll be awake into the early hours before you know it. I look forward to seeing what else this author can come up with.

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