“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”

Sigmund Freud

Alicia Berenson had been living the life of her dreams. A famous painter herself, she was married to Gabriel, a fashion photographer and the love of her life. One day when her husband arrived home late at night, she shot him in the head five times and went completely silent.

Her refusal to admit that she committed the murder and with no evidence proving otherwise, she finds herself under house arrest at home after the court proceedings. It is at this juncture that she paints a self-portrait and titles or rather signs it as Alcestis. Who is she and why Alcestis?

Alcestis is a tragedy by Ancient Greek playwright Euripides. The story revolves around Alcestis, who died in place of her husband, Admetus. She came back to life with the help of Hercules. However, upon returning to life, she went completely silent, refusing to speak a single word. She was emotionless, showing neither love nor pain. It is clear at this moment, Alicia sees a reflection of Alcestis in herself. But why Alcestis? Why is she silent? Why is Alicia silent? It is this question that the readers find themselves painstakingly exploring throughout the book. 

Alicia’s refusal to speak combined with the display of the Alcestis artwork in an art gallery puts her in the spotlight and attracts huge public attention. Eventually she is placed at the Grove – a psychiatric unit and the audience finds itself losing interest in her story as her refusal to speak turns into boredom for them. But there is one person who still hasn’t lost his interest – Theo Faber. 

Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who was among those who were interested to delve deeper into the meaning of her artwork and her silence. In order to get into direct contact with her, he applies for a job at the Grove and as soon as he gets it, he sets his plan into motion to make her speak. Theo knew beforehand this was a challenging task and found his situation thwarted with numerous difficulties. Alicia on her part refuses to speak – so we hear only Theo’s narrative – his interpretations of her, his attempts to know more about her through her relatives. But Alicia’s voice echoes somewhat faintly from the start – through her diary which the reader reads simultaneously as he flips through the pages. It is from these very pages that the reader is revealed of how deeply she was in love with her husband, putting the reader into even more doubt as to why she would kill someone whom she so deeply loved. The diary renders an emotion to her emotionless face, of pure love, of happiness.

The past is a deeply rooted character in the story – it merges with every other single character, with Theo in the form of his traumatic childhood with his father, with Alicia in the form of her mother’s death. The past never lets go of us – how much ever we let go of it. It haunts till we find happiness, till it becomes a weak, feeble voice suppressed underneath the emotion of happiness. Theo finds happiness with his wife Kathryn and Alicia finds happiness with her husband Gabriel.

However, the past finds its way from the deep buried pits upwards taking aid from jealousy, hatred and mistrust. It manifests itself in unintended ways in everyone. 

“The Silent Patient” is a story that keeps you completely engaged till the very end. It starts by describing Alicia as a blank canvas – with no story, no voice, no identity. As the book progresses, the blank canvas absorbs its colors – red, the color of love and hatred. This book makes you wonder if love and hatred are really just the same. In painting Alicia’s emotional portrait, the author fills the remaining colors in others portraits – filling the blank spaces to make a complete sense of their characters.  Once you have filled all the colors – you have the complete picture, with its shades, strokes and colors. It is at this point the picture is truly complete for the audience to see. It is at this point that Alcestis has manifested herself into the portrait.

“The Silent Patient” is the story of betrayal and trust, love and lust. I would definitely suggest it to the bookworms out there who like slow, psychologically engaging thrillers with less action but are equally satisfying. There would be no better start to a new year than picking up “The Silent Patient” for reading and immersing yourself in the enthralling world of books.

-Ananya Kirsur


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