The Silent Patient
“dramatically proves no man is an island and whatever happens in one person’s life may in turn affect another, for better or worse.”
Called to a residence by reports of shots fired, the police find artist Alicia Berenson standing beside the body of her husband Gabriel, a photographer. He has been bound to a chair and shot five times. The gun lies nearby on the floor.
Alicia’s wrists have been slashed. She is bleeding profusely.
“The facts, such as they were, were simple: Alicia was found alone with Gabriel’s body; only her fingerprints were on the gun. There was never any doubt she killed Gabriel. Why she killed him, on the other hand, remained a mystery.”
She never speaks a word in her defense. Her only action is a painting of herself, done after she is released from the hospital, depicting how she looked that day. It was also noted she had shortly before completed a portrait of Gabriel as a crucified Christ, with the gun killing him prominently portrayed in the painting.
Alicia is subsequently declared insane and admitted to the Grove, a secure psychiatric unit in North London.
“It was the only explanation that made any sense: Why else tie up the man you loved to a chair and shoot him in the face at close range? And then express no remorse, give no explanation, not even speak. She must be mad. She had to be.”
When a staff opening comes available at the Groves, psychotherapist Theo Farber applies for the position. He’s followed Alicia’s trial and story and believes he can help her speak again and tell exactly what happened that night.
“I became resolved to stop at nothing until Alicia became my patient. There was no time to waste: Alicia was lost. She was missing. And I intended to find her.”
Their sessions don’t go as he expects. At the initial one, Alicia attacks him viciously, but Theo perseveres. He goes beyond the usual procedures and contacts her family and friends, seeking their views of his patient and why she did what she did. He learns of her mother’s death when Alicia was a child, of her father’s rejection, her aunt’s cruelty, and above all, her overwhelming love for Gabriel.
Through his persistence, Alicia responds . . . and what follows is a shock to all involved.
Told from Theo’s perspective, the story at first seems merely timeline of a therapist’s attempts to bring a patient back to reality. Theo is ambitious, of course, and helping Alicia speak again would definitely be a coup to his career, but as the story progresses, it’s obvious there’s another reason behind his determination.
His narrative, interspersed with excerpts from Alicia’s journal and the flashbacks of his discovery of the infidelity of the wife he adores, chronicles his sessions with her and soon establishes how much the progression of their lives have in common, binding them together in other than a therapeutic relationship.
What begins as a mere mystery transforms into a thriller delving into the psyches of patient and therapist. In a final climactic chapter, it is shockingly shown how alike their shared experiences are. A caveat here: the revelatory chapter is written in such a way that to the unperceptive reader, it may seem a continuation of the one preceding, and thus may be somewhat confusing as to time-frame. The final sentence of the last chapter is open to interpretation. As in Conrad Aiken’s Silent Snow, Secret Snow, does the falling snow represent life, death, escape . . . or all of the above?
The Silent Patient dramatically proves no man is an island and whatever happens in one person’s life may in turn affect another, for better or worse.