Silent Patient - review
We always say and hear that we only have so many plots, they have all been used before, so why are so many great books still written?
One thing we do know is the Greeks Loved a good tragedy, they basically invented an art form.
Sorrow, sacrifice and loss with love and redemption (sometimes).
Alex almost certainly grew up reading or hearing all about the classics, he has a fab line when two of the psychologist’s chat about being Greek and knowing the tragedies is akin to being British and knowing Shakespeare, even having quotes from Winter’s Tale and some Othello thrown into the book too.
We have some very simple and exceedingly effective narrative and plot in this book, taking a voice that isn’t heard and yet is still so potent and expressive in the ability to create feeling and understanding for the other characters, is quite a treat. There is art and plays and psychology and deceit and pain in spades in this fabulous book.
Another good thing, which seems a vogue, is you can read it in either one brutal session or split it nicely into 4 reads. I did one session as I am lucky that Sunday is free, I pity those wanting to read on and having less time.
So, we have Euripides and his epic tragedy ‘Alcestis’ a beautiful piece with sacrifice and death and a hero saving the day, sort of, it’s what isn’t said that matters, a key thing in the plot overall. It’s there, it’s seen, it’s just, not said and that makes it oh so clever.
The Fates decree a death of Admetus, he asks for salvation at the hands of his parents, they won’t sacrifice themselves for him, so his beautiful and gracious wife does, she enters Hades and seems lost for eternity but enter Heracles and he ventures in and retrieves her, she is returned to her seemingly loving and redemptive husband, but… never says another word, she is silent and that is exactly what now happens in the book with Alicia, she is a celeb artist whose work is stunningly photographic even with oils, one could say, she sees so much and wants to portray it for others to see, without telling anyone herself what the metaphor is.
Her final work was called Alcestis and throughout the book we see more of it without ever being told by the artist what she painted. There are many layers to this book, akin to how a great work of art is made, with subtle flourishes of colour and shape and things hidden just beneath the immediate surface of seeing. Alicia is the Silent Patient and yet we get so much from her lack of talking that it is actually quite profound what expression and lack of saying can portray.
There is much observation of lives and situations including the workings of the high security mental institute, under threat of closure from funding cuts, with a steely office manager determined to make it safe at all costs, but she knows nothing of how minds work and how they are teased into disclosure of matters that matter. We bounce in and out of the sort of Cuckoo’s nest of The Grove, run by the Greek psychiatrist Prof Diomedes who never seems to leave his office!
Theo is determined to open up the voice of Alicia and save her, she is portrayed as both a siren of doom and desire and also a mute swan who may only talk when death approaches. Whose death will she talk about? She has been silent and incarcerated for 6 years for shooting her husband Gabriel five times in their home in Hampstead, only her fingerprints, no one else seen and yet, Theo and others think she may actually be innocent, but without hearing her story they can’t do anything.
Her diary or rather thought book is a key in the plot, we are teased beautifully with her thoughts and indeed actions, Theo is suddenly privy to this insight and becomes a detective racing against his job, training and own safety to try and find out what was not told. There is much to be praised in Alex’s story, characters appear and become very real, yet, there is a subtle undercurrent of what is real and who, some may think the medications and the incessant heat and pressures of lives under pressure may make things be mere illusions and not real.
There are many people we at first see one way and then question their actual needs and actions, the subtle way psychology works throughout the book, a book about psychology is brilliant. Even the snippets of Freud and others are well used. In real terms the book totally messes with your head, you actually feel shaky and scared as you read and I promise… you will not guess the ending or the reasons things happened, there is also some Oedipus at play and Narcissus too…
Alex cleverly tells us so much about families and relationships with his superb use of switching perspectives on events from within and observing lives and situations over a period not only within the 6 years of the case, but back many years too, but always there is current story too.
Trust and betrayal are key factors, love and lust, silence is deadly and also golden, we can’t mishear if nothing is said, but then we get a series of events where actions speak louder than words, art stays as a motif, we have therapy and realisations and depth of feelings, Theo returning to the gallery several times and seeing more each time of the central piece, from maggots to hidden watchers is cleverly done and beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.
To have such a taut and powerful read delving into the minds tortured on many levels by actions seen and not, is exceptionally well done. You are desperate to know who is doing what and why, there are more crimes than one murder and the stunning way things are hidden and untold until we see or hear what we must, is breath-taking. All I end with is this, like snowflakes no two books are the same even if they share plots with so many from the past, it’s the unique way an author takes the words and adds their own meanings.
Deep Thought. Hush! No one said a word…
Alex is at Bolton Central Library at 1pm on Weds 27th Feb with Harriet Tyce and Ashley Dyer
Come along and see, hear and say what you will… but, read this amazing book soon.