Alicia and Gabriel Berenson lead a life most people would envy. Both highly successful in their careers – she as a painter, he as a fashion photographer – their world is filled with glitz and glamor. Financially comfortable, they live in a beautiful home with a garden in a prestigious area of London. And they’re still very much in love. Or so it seems.
But the world is shocked by what occurs… One night Gabriel returns home late from work, and his wife Alicia shoots him five times in the face, killing him instantly.
The police arrive quickly – and neither confessing nor denying her guilt, Alicia goes completely silent. But it’s obvious what happened, a slam-dunk case. Alicia discovered at the crime scene distraught, blood-spattered, only her prints on the gun. And no signs of a break-in or an intruder.
Persistently refusing to speak, Alicia is convicted of her husband’s brutal murder, but she’s not sent to prison. Instead, due to her uncanny silence and a past history of mental health issues, she’s confined to a secure forensic unit, i.e. a modern-day madhouse, in North London called the Grove.
For nearly six years Alicia has remained silent, her only statement a haunting, cryptic self-portrait titled “Alcestis” that she painted right after the murder. But the position of forensic psychotherapist has just opened up at the Grove, and a man named Theo Faber wins the job.
Fascinated by Alicia’s story, her fragile beauty and her silence, Theo begins to work with her as a therapist. Others, including the director of the institution, Lazarus Diomedes, hold little hope of him breaching Alicia’s wall of silence, but Theo himself is convinced he can cause a breakthrough.
At first Alicia’s reaction is startlingly adverse, and she attacks Theo violently. But over time, as the lines between doctor and patient, past and present, start to blur, Alicia and Theo begin to dance a potentially deadly pas de deux…
Although this is a debut novel, the author is unbelievably skilled and it’s nearly flawless. His writing is compelling and evocative, sweeping the reader eagerly along. And he brings Alicia and Theo to life in unnerving ways – stripped naked, the bone and gristle of their psyches showing through the vibrant, blood-red color he’s painted them with.
There are all sorts of hidden gems, like a secret diary kept by Alicia, and the tie-in between her haunting self-portrait “Alcestis” and Greek mythology. And the unreliable narrator card, made so popular in GONE GIRL and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, is played out in spades. But I’m not going to say more, because the layers of deception – like paint caked on a canvas – are best demystified by reading the novel.
Deep, disturbing. Twisty, turny, and madly satisfying. So go spend a little time in the madhouse with Alicia and Theo. And maybe even your own demons…
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