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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...

Celadon Books
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The Book Master
This is an amazing book with a huge plot twist at the end that I never saw coming. It is beautifully written and an enchanting story. I really liked this book. 9/10 stars. I'm trying to convey how good it was without any spoilers, but it is not going so well. I know that this is a badly written review, but what I hope to convey is that this is an amazing book, and that even if it is a bit long, it is definitely worth the read.
19 March 2020 (23:35) 
The best book I've read yet! I enjoyed reading it.
30 April 2020 (14:12) 
I couldn't stop reading until the end. It is worth reading. And it is a good read... I have recommended it to some of my friends
06 May 2020 (00:52) 
Such a remarkable book like to hooked to it whatever i thought about it it proved me wrong all my guesses about the villain which we can call him in a twisted way were proved wrong really it's such a interesting book everyone should read it atleast once
17 May 2020 (05:39) 
Bee you tiful
Compelling read, I couldn't put it down, makes you question how well you know the people around you and what exactly love is.
27 May 2020 (09:12) 
Melani de Villiers
Its a cant-put-down book! Loved it and wow what a twist!
13 June 2020 (09:20) 
Wow! Definitely a good read. Insane plot twist as well. Throughout the novel i was continually guessing at what the end result would be but to my surprise it was NOTHING as I imagined. I am a little upset with the ending as I feel there could have been a longer explanation as opposed to a longer middle point of the story....although I appreciate how we got the answers we were searching for. I also got confused with the end as the answers come to life of the timelines presented. Maybe it was just me but it just would have been better if there was a better explanation of what referred to which time period...although i suppose that was the point to enhance the final result of the reader discovering everything. Idk I’m confused lol. Nonetheless it is definitely a good read I would recommend. Maybe it was just me who felt off about it. 7/10
18 July 2020 (09:32) 
Once you start reading , you can't stop until the end!
22 July 2020 (09:27) 
Neha vora
Having read way too many good reviews of the book, i started with such high expectations , but was little bit disappointed in the end to know the twist, This was mainly because i could guess the killer and i beleived no this cant be the one m there has to be some twist , this was because i have read a similar book by a very famous author on the same line and i believe that is the original one. I cant reveal the name since it would be unjustice to the readers of that book .
29 July 2020 (15:39) 
I can't stop reading it is the biggest move I have ever as a career and here
31 July 2020 (12:52) 
One of my bests, really enjoyed it till the last. If anyone can recommend me a book something similar pls?
12 August 2020 (17:25) 
The best thriller i hve ever read...
15 August 2020 (07:44) 
Tolu DeWine
>10 100%
Loved the last sentence. Hits differently. Shows how much fucked up people could turn out to be despite having the purest hearts but haven been raised in the worst environment.
16 August 2020 (16:48) 
I was shocked, I wasn't expecting that twist. I learnt a lot from it, a whole lot
05 September 2020 (13:19) 
This book is phenomenal... Gosh the twist in the end was jaw dropping. It's a must read.
21 October 2020 (15:02) 
Well, that was shocking. Good book to read.
26 November 2020 (12:38) 
I have read a lot of books but I was not expecting that twist it honestly did shock me. I have read 7 times already and I still can't get over it.
02 December 2020 (05:24) 
Ritika Mishra
It's a phenomenal. One of my all time favorite psychological thriller . Never saw the twist coming. Shocked to the core . Definitely a must read for all those who love plot twists.
17 January 2021 (09:58) 
This is beyond awesome honestly.... The twist was unimaginable
21 January 2021 (21:42) 
a great read. this book is awesome
27 January 2021 (04:06) 
An interesting book with a lil bit of twist towards the end
05 February 2021 (12:36) 
Loved this book. It's engaging, and full of twists. It makes you constantly wonder what is next. I really recommend this book to every thriller lover.
07 March 2021 (01:09) 
Best book I have read in a while quite the page turner also a major not expected plot twist
24 March 2021 (06:04) 
I couldn’t believe the ending there was such a huge plot twist that I didn’t see coming . The book is amazing I definitely would recommend it.
24 March 2021 (19:46) 
The Silent Patient was is a perfect thriller and has all elements to grab one’s attention told through narrative of a physiotherapist Theo Faber it tells the story of a silent patient-Alicia Berenson who killed her husband six years ago but Theo wants to know the reason behind Alicia’s silence and why did she killed her husband.Theo is determined to make Alicia speak.The climax is amazing and I there is no way you can predict the ending.The Silent Patient is a worth reading novel it is fast paced book and the writing style of the author is easy.It is one of those books that will make you think of it again and again until you get to the climax i.e.,you won’t be able to put it down unless you finish it.I would recommend this to everyone!!!
09 April 2021 (06:49) 
Absolutely worth reading!
02 May 2021 (00:17) 
I loved the twist at the end. It's one thing your least expected, and the buildup of all the time of trying to understand to patient only to learn the truth and it captures abuse very well..highly would recommend it!
06 May 2021 (08:59) 
Loved the way it ended, did not expect it. Very brilliantly written, it was so addictive I could not put it down.
07 May 2021 (17:38) 
Book lover
Loved the twist at the end. Never saw that coming. Recommended to my friends.
20 May 2021 (01:36) 
Has anyone uploaded his second book The Maidens yet?
05 June 2021 (04:16) 
This book is simply amazing. It's absolutely worth your time
13 June 2021 (23:19) 
After reading this book, i literally fell in love with the author, Alex Michaelides' style of writing. the story was beautifully and mysteriously interwoven between two timelines and I found it unputdownable. highly recommended for people who like twisted stories slash psychological thrillers. simply amazing!
14 June 2021 (10:34) 
Amazing book!! Couldn’t stop reading! I loved it
21 June 2021 (06:33) 
I couldn’t stop
Reading this book!!!! JUST A M A Z I N G !!!
26 June 2021 (22:26) 
A great psychological thriller.. A mind blowing plot twist!!
27 June 2021 (09:51) 
read this a week ago in one sitting and i couldn't sleep thinking about that MAJORRR plot twist
28 June 2021 (14:16) 
Definitely worth the read!
02 July 2021 (01:04) 
loved it!!! Would recommend to any fan of thrillers
03 July 2021 (20:43) 
Right, woow, just wooow, this is the best literature I've ever read because the twist plot is amazing, really something. Once you pick it up you won't regret
09 July 2021 (12:41) 
Bookish me
It worth reading.and plot twist oh my goddddd ...i didn't expected that ...just goosebumps when twist came literally i was like bravo to the author how he perfectly wrote a plot ....i was hooked up from start to end ...i don't even cared about my exam till i finished it ?...okay I will stop here or else I will be writing a mini book on this book ??
26 July 2021 (16:34) 
The amount of reviews this book has shows you it's worth a read. I've never seen a book with so many reviews as I have with this one. Enjoy, bookworms!
05 August 2021 (14:32) 
i really enjoyed this one. so. much.
08 August 2021 (16:49) 
I prepared myself for a predictable story and gosh…. How I enjoyed being proven terribly wrong!
10 August 2021 (23:49) 
Loved it. Highly recommend
13 August 2021 (16:46) 
The only good thing about this book is the plot twist,other than that every single character is unlikeable
18 August 2021 (15:42) 
I would totally recommend it. I just can't stop thinking about how the author portrayed all of it like that. Bravo!! It's a masterpiece.
23 August 2021 (03:18) 
sooo i just finished it and OMG, it's just outstanding and unexpectable, like i'm shocked rn and i wasn't expecting the end AT ALL!!! y'all better read itttt it's just ughh soo goooooood!!!
23 August 2021 (18:13) 
26 August 2021 (16:18) 
I stand by what AJ FINN said. The Perfect Thriller. Had me shocked at 3am.
04 September 2021 (13:42) 
Soleil Lust
This book is interesting. You would never expect what will happen to the succeeding scenarios since there seems to be a lot of unexpected turns of events. Overall, it's amazing.
09 September 2021 (05:55) 
Jody Smith
All I can say is, do yourself a favor and READ THIS BOOK!
15 September 2021 (13:27) 
Okay I get everybody is saying it’s not predictable but I predicted it ,at one point it became very easy to predict if your someone like me that is very paranoid and attentive when reading thrillers you would guess it but regardless it’s still worth the read because when it is explained you will still be shocked by exactly how the murder happened.
18 September 2021 (23:56) 
One of the best books i have ever read. Never expected the twist at the end. Brilliant.
Sad i cannot fine more books bt this author.
I am look for the book titled MAIDEN.
21 September 2021 (12:42) 
Great book! This was my first read on my Kindle. The plot twist was shocking!
22 September 2021 (15:27) 
totally worth reading! the suspense…totally unseen
08 October 2021 (20:40) 
I read this book and i think is perfect
30 October 2021 (17:57) 
the story is really dark and it's very good
30 October 2021 (17:58) 
Black Pearl
I love this book. couldn't put it down.

28 November 2021 (15:51) 
This book is amazing... The twist in the end was jaw dropping. Definitely a must read.
04 December 2021 (04:41) 
Vipasha Aiyer
I could not stop reading. This is the fastes that I've ever read a book i think. I finished it in less than 3 hours and now, 15 hours later, my mind is still blown. It took me quite a while to suspect Theo, but still it reels my mind how things turned out.
05 December 2021 (09:33) 
Welp now I know what happened
07 December 2021 (07:29) 
This book is am master piece, a must read........i have to admit it took me by surprise, i dd not see it coming. I looooveee it . please read it.
24 December 2021 (21:53) 
The end was completely unpredictable. I totally loved this book. I would give it 11/10
27 December 2021 (02:57) 
Amazing book the suspense is keeps u stuck to the book. Would definitely recommend to people who love murder and romance
31 December 2021 (09:42) 
Hands down. Great story telling. Great twist. Great writing. Definitely a must read. You won't be disappointed reading this book. I really am itching to tell someone about the story but this is one of those books where I want people to just read it and experience it all as I did. Worth the time!
03 January 2022 (06:33) 
Hounaida ElJortti
An amazing mind blowing book. A must read!
03 January 2022 (19:23) 
This is by far the best book I've ever read in my life. I finished this book in 3 days (which is impressive for me since I only started reading again when the pandemic started). I couldn't put it down. Every chapter was so good. All the details, the plot twists, EVERYTHING!! It sent chills down my spine. I went back and re-read the last part over and over to wrap my head around it. My jaw has been on the floor for the past hour. I wish I could start this book over from the beginning. IT'S A MUST READ!
10 January 2022 (15:46) 
Absolutely LOVED this book. Definitely found my favorite book. That ending was VERY unexpected. 10/10 recommend!
13 January 2022 (19:37) 
A great read, one of the best I have read. Highly recommend it
14 January 2022 (10:00) 
Well first it catches me...I could barely put it away,to be fair it was new,but I don't know....when you finish it you feel like you knew somehow from the beginning that how it will it was just playing with the phrases
18 January 2022 (17:18) 
GREAT book I absolutely adored it and the ENDING was so unexpected my jaw was on the floor 11/10
24 January 2022 (02:53) 

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For my parents

But why does she not speak?

—EURIPIDES, Alcestis


Alicia Berenson’s Diary


I don’t know why I’m writing this.

That’s not true. Maybe I do know and just don’t want to admit it to myself

I don’t even know what to call it—this thing I’m writing. It feels a little pretentious to call it a diary. It’s not like I have anything to say. Anne Frank kept a diary—not someone like me. Calling it a “journal” sounds too academic, somehow. As if I should write in it every day, and I don’t want to—if it becomes a chore, I’ll never keep it up.

Maybe I’ll call it nothing. An unnamed something that I occasionally write in. I like that better. Once you name something, it stops you seeing the whole of it, or why it matters. You focus on the word, which is just the tiniest part, really, the tip of an iceberg. I’ve never been that comfortable with words—I always think in pictures, express myself with images—so I’d never have started writing this if it weren’t for Gabriel.

I’ve been feeling depressed lately, about a few things. I thought I was doing a good job of hiding it, but he noticed—of course he did, he notices everything. He asked how the painting was going—I said it wasn’t. He got me a glass of wine, and I sat at the kitchen table while he cooked.

I like watching Gabriel move arou; nd the kitchen. He’s a graceful cook—elegant, balletic, organized. Unlike me. I just make a mess.

“Talk to me,” he said.

“There’s nothing to say. I just get so stuck in my head sometimes. I feel like I’m wading through mud.”

“Why don’t you try writing things down? Keeping some kind of record? That might help.”

“Yes, I suppose so. I’ll try it.”

“Don’t just say it, darling. Do it.”

“I will.”

He kept nagging me, but I did nothing about it. And then a few days later he presented me with this little book to write in. It has a black leather cover and thick white blank pages. I ran my hand across the first page, feeling its smoothness—then sharpened my pencil and began.

He was right, of course. I feel better already—writing this down is providing a kind of release, an outlet, a space to express myself. A bit like therapy, I suppose.

Gabriel didn’t say it, but I could tell he’s concerned about me. And if I’m going to be honest—and I may as well be—the real reason I agreed to keep this diary was to reassure him—prove that I’m okay. I can’t bear the thought of him worrying about me. I don’t ever want to cause him any distress or make him unhappy or cause him pain. I love Gabriel so much. He is without doubt the love of my life. I love him so totally, completely, sometimes it threatens to overwhelm me. Sometimes I think—

No. I won’t write about that.

This is going to be a joyful record of ideas and images that inspire me artistically, things that make a creative impact on me. I’m only going to write positive, happy, normal thoughts.

No crazy thoughts allowed.


He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may

convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret.

If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips;

betrayal oozes out of him at every pore.

—SIGMUND FREUD, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis



They had been married for seven years. They were both artists—Alicia was a painter, and Gabriel was a well-known fashion photographer. He had a distinctive style, shooting semi-starved, semi-naked women in strange, unflattering angles. Since his death, the price of his photographs has increased astronomically. I find his stuff rather slick and shallow, to be honest. It has none of the visceral quality of Alicia’s best work. I don’t know enough about art to say whether Alicia Berenson will stand the test of time as a painter. Her talent will always be overshadowed by her notoriety, so it’s hard to be objective. And you might well accuse me of being biased. All I can offer is my opinion, for what it’s worth. And to me, Alicia was a kind of genius. Apart from her technical skill, her paintings have an uncanny ability to grab your attention—by the throat, almost—and hold it in a viselike grip.

Gabriel Berenson was murdered six years ago. He was forty-four years old. He was killed on the twenty-fifth of August—it was an unusually hot summer, you may remember, with some of the highest temperatures ever recorded. The day he died was the hottest of the year.

On the last day of his life, Gabriel rose early. A car collected him at 5:15 a.m. from the house he shared with Alicia in northwest London, on the edge of Hampstead Heath, and he was driven to a shoot in Shoreditch. He spent the day photographing models on a rooftop for Vogue.

Not much is known about Alicia’s movements. She had an upcoming exhibition and was behind with her work. It’s likely she spent the day painting in the summerhouse at the end of the garden, which she had recently converted into a studio. In the end, Gabriel’s shoot ran late, and he wasn’t driven home until eleven p.m.

Half an hour later, their neighbor, Barbie Hellmann, heard several gunshots. Barbie phoned the police, and a car was dispatched from the station on Haverstock Hill at 11:35 p.m. It arrived at the Berensons’ house in just under three minutes.

The front door was open. The house was in pitch-black darkness; none of the light switches worked. The officers made their way along the hallway and into the living room. They shone torches around the room, illuminating it in intermittent beams of light. Alicia was discovered standing by the fireplace. Her white dress glowed ghostlike in the torchlight. Alicia seemed oblivious to the presence of the police. She was immobilized, frozen—a statue carved from ice—with a strange, frightened look on her face, as if confronting some unseen terror.

A gun was on the floor. Next to it, in the shadows, Gabriel was seated, motionless, bound to a chair with wire wrapped around his ankles and wrists. At first the officers thought he was alive. His head lolled slightly to one side, as if he were unconscious. Then a beam of light revealed Gabriel had been shot several times in the face. His handsome features were gone forever, leaving a charred, blackened, bloody mess. The wall behind him was sprayed with fragments of skull, brains, hair—and blood.

Blood was everywhere—splashed on the walls, running in dark rivulets along the floor, along the grain of the wooden floorboards. The officers assumed it was Gabriel’s blood. But there was too much of it. And then something glinted in the torchlight—a knife was on the floor by Alicia’s feet. Another beam of light revealed the blood spattered on Alicia’s white dress. An officer grabbed her arms and held them up to the light. There were deep cuts across the veins in her wrists—fresh cuts, bleeding hard.

Alicia fought off the attempts to save her life; it took three officers to restrain her. She was taken to the Royal Free Hospital, only a few minutes away. She collapsed and lost consciousness on the way there. She had lost a lot of blood, but she survived.

The following day, she lay in bed in a private room at the hospital. The police questioned her in the presence of her lawyer. Alicia remained silent throughout the interview. Her lips were pale, bloodless; they fluttered occasionally but formed no words, made no sounds. She answered no questions. She could not, would not, speak. Nor did she speak when charged with Gabriel’s murder. She remained silent when she was placed under arrest, refusing to deny her guilt or confess it.

Alicia never spoke again.

Her enduring silence turned this story from a commonplace domestic tragedy into something far grander: a mystery, an enigma that gripped the headlines and captured the public imagination for months to come.

Alicia remained silent—but she made one statement. A painting. It was begun when she was discharged from the hospital and placed under house arrest before the trial. According to the court-appointed psychiatric nurse, Alicia barely ate or slept—all she did was paint.

Normally Alicia labored weeks, even months, before embarking on a new picture, making endless sketches, arranging and rearranging the composition, experimenting with color and form—a long gestation followed by a protracted birth as each brushstroke was painstakingly applied. Now, however, she drastically altered her creative process, completing this painting within a few days of her husband’s murder.

And for most people, this was enough to condemn her—returning to the studio so soon after Gabriel’s death betrayed an extraordinary insensitivity. The monstrous lack of remorse of a cold-blooded killer.

Perhaps. But let us not forget that while Alicia Berenson may be a murderer, she was also an artist. It makes perfect sense—to me at least—that she should pick up her brushes and paints and express her complicated emotions on canvas. No wonder that, for once, painting came to her with such ease; if grief can be called easy.

The painting was a self-portrait. She titled it in the bottom left-hand corner of the canvas, in light blue Greek lettering.

One word:



ALCESTIS IS THE HEROINE OF A GREEK MYTH. A love story of the saddest kind. Alcestis willingly sacrifices her life for that of her husband, Admetus, dying in his place when no one else will. An unsettling myth of self-sacrifice, it was unclear how it related to Alicia’s situation. The true meaning of the allusion remained unknown to me for some time. Until one day, the truth came to light—

But I’m going too fast. I’m getting ahead of myself. I must start at the beginning and let events speak for themselves. I mustn’t color them, twist them, or tell any lies. I’ll proceed step by step, slowly and cautiously. But where to begin? I should introduce myself, but perhaps not quite yet; after all, I am not the hero of this tale. It is Alicia Berenson’s story, so I must begin with her—and the Alcestis.

The painting is a self-portrait, depicting Alicia in her studio at home in the days after the murder, standing before an easel and a canvas, holding a paintbrush. She is naked. Her body is rendered in unsparing detail: strands of long red hair falling across bony shoulders, blue veins visible beneath translucent skin, fresh scars on both her wrists. She’s holding the paintbrush between her fingers. It’s dripping red paint—or is it blood? She is captured in the act of painting—yet the canvas is blank, as is her expression. Her head is turned over her shoulder and she stares straight out at us. Mouth open, lips parted. Mute.

During the trial, Jean-Felix Martin, who managed the small Soho gallery that represented Alicia, made the controversial decision, decried by many as sensationalist and macabre, to exhibit the Alcestis. The fact that the artist was currently in the dock for killing her husband meant, for the first time in the gallery’s long history, queues formed outside the entrance.

I stood in line with the other prurient art-lovers, waiting my turn by the neon-red lights of a sex shop next door. One by one, we shuffled inside. Once in the gallery, we were herded toward the painting, like an excitable crowd at a fairground making its way through a haunted house. Eventually, I found myself at the front of the line—and was confronted with the Alcestis.

I stared at the painting, staring into Alicia’s face, trying to interpret the look in her eyes, trying to understand—but the portrait defied me. Alicia stared back at me—a blank mask—unreadable, impenetrable. I could divine neither innocence nor guilt in her expression.

Other people found her easier to read.

“Pure evil,” whispered the woman behind me.

“Isn’t she?” her companion agreed. “Cold-blooded bitch.”

A little unfair, I thought—considering Alicia’s guilt had yet to be proven. But in truth it was a foregone conclusion. The tabloids had cast her as a villain from the start: a femme fatale, a black widow. A monster.

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.

The murder was debated in the media, and different theories were espoused in print and on the radio and on morning chat shows. Experts were brought in to explain, condemn, justify Alicia’s actions. She must have been a victim of domestic abuse, surely, pushed too far, before finally exploding? Another theory proposed a sex game gone wrong—the husband was found tied up, wasn’t he? Some suspected it was old-fashioned jealousy that drove Alicia to murder—another woman, probably? But at the trial Gabriel was described by his brother as a devoted husband, deeply in love with his wife. Well, what about money? Alicia didn’t stand to gain much by his death; she was the one who had money, inherited from her father.

And so it went on, endless speculation—no answers, only more questions—about Alicia’s motives and her subsequent silence. Why did she refuse to speak? What did it mean? Was she hiding something? Protecting someone? If so, who? And why?

At the time, I remember thinking that while everyone was talking, writing, arguing, about Alicia, at the heart of this frantic, noisy activity there was a void—a silence. A sphinx.

During the trial, the judge took a dim view of Alicia’s persistent refusal to speak. Innocent people, Mr. Justice Alverstone pointed out, tended to proclaim their innocence loudly—and often. Alicia not only remained silent, but she showed no visible signs of remorse. She didn’t cry once throughout the trial—a fact made much of in the press—her face remaining unmoved, cold. Frozen.

The defense had little choice but to enter a plea of diminished responsibility: Alicia had a long history of mental health problems, it was claimed, dating back to her childhood. The judge dismissed a lot of this as hearsay—but in the end he allowed himself to be swayed by Lazarus Diomedes, professor of forensic psychiatry at Imperial College, and clinical director of the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London. Professor Diomedes argued that Alicia’s refusal to speak was in itself evidence of profound psychological distress—and she should be sentenced accordingly.

This was a rather roundabout way of saying something that psychiatrists don’t like putting bluntly:

Diomedes was saying Alicia was mad.

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.

In the end, Mr. Justice Alverstone accepted the plea of diminished responsibility and advised the jury to follow suit. Alicia was subsequently admitted to the Grove—under the supervision of the same Professor Diomedes whose testimony had been so influential with the judge.

If Alicia wasn’t mad—that is, if her silence was merely an act, a performance for the benefit of the jury—then it had worked. She was spared a lengthy prison sentence—and if she made a full recovery, she might well be discharged in a few years. Surely now was the time to begin faking that recovery? To utter a few words here and there, then a few more; to slowly communicate some kind of remorse? But no. Week followed week, month followed month, then the years passed—and still Alicia didn’t speak.

There was simply silence.

And so, with no further revelation forthcoming, the disappointed media eventually lost interest in Alicia Berenson. She joined the ranks of other briefly famous murderers; faces we remember, but whose names we forget.

Not all of us. Some people—myself included—continued to be fascinated by the mystery of Alicia Berenson and her enduring silence. As a psychotherapist, I thought it obvious that she had suffered a severe trauma surrounding Gabriel’s death; and this silence was a manifestation of that trauma. Unable to come to terms with what she had done, Alicia stuttered and came to a halt, like a broken car. I wanted to help start her up again—help Alicia tell her story, to heal and get well. I wanted to fix her.

Without wishing to sound boastful, I felt uniquely qualified to help Alicia Berenson. I’m a forensic psychotherapist and used to working with some of the most damaged, vulnerable members of society. And something about Alicia’s story resonated with me personally—I felt a profound empathy with her right from the start.

Unfortunately, I was still working at Broadmoor in those days, and so treating Alicia would have—should have—remained an idle fantasy, had not fate unexpectedly intervened.

Nearly six years after Alicia was admitted, the position of forensic psychotherapist became available at the Grove. As soon as I saw the advert, I knew I had no choice. I followed my gut—and applied for the job.


MY NAME IS THEO FABER. I’m forty-two years old. And I became a psychotherapist because I was fucked-up. That’s the truth—though it’s not what I said during the job interview, when the question was put to me.

“What drew you to psychotherapy, do you think?” asked Indira Sharma, peering at me over the rims of her owlish glasses.

Indira was consultant psychotherapist at the Grove. She was in her late fifties with an attractive round face and long jet-black hair streaked with gray. She gave me a small smile—as if to reassure me this was an easy question, a warm-up volley, a precursor to trickier shots to follow.

I hesitated. I could feel the other members of the panel looking at me. I remained conscious of maintaining eye contact as I trotted out a rehearsed response, a sympathetic tale about working part-time in a care home as a teenager; and how this inspired an interest in psychology, which led to a postgraduate study of psychotherapy, and so on.

“I wanted to help people, I suppose.” I shrugged. “That’s it, really.”

Which was bullshit.

I mean, of course I wanted to help people. But that was a secondary aim—particularly at the time I started training. The real motivation was purely selfish. I was on a quest to help myself. I believe the same is true for most people who go into mental health. We are drawn to this profession because we are damaged—we study psychology to heal ourselves. Whether we are prepared to admit this or not is another question.

As human beings, in our earliest years we reside in a land before memory. We like to think of ourselves as emerging from this primordial fog with our characters fully formed, like Aphrodite rising perfect from the sea foam. But thanks to increasing research into the development of the brain, we know this is not the case. We are born with a brain half-formed—more like a muddy lump of clay than a divine Olympian. As the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott put it, “There is no such thing as a baby.” The development of our personalities doesn’t take place in isolation, but in relationship with others—we are shaped and completed by unseen, unremembered forces; namely, our parents.

This is frightening, for obvious reasons. Who knows what indignities we suffered, what torments and abuses, in this land before memory? Our character was formed without our even knowing it. In my case, I grew up feeling edgy, afraid; anxious. This anxiety seemed to predate my existence and exist independently of me. But I suspect it originated in my relationship with my father, around whom I was never safe.

My father’s unpredictable and arbitrary rages made any situation, no matter how benign, into a potential minefield. An innocuous remark or a dissenting voice would trigger his anger and set off a series of explosions from which there was no refuge. The house shook as he shouted, chasing me upstairs into my room. I’d dive and slide under the bed, against the wall. I’d breathe in the feathery air, praying the bricks would swallow me up and I would disappear. But his hand would grab hold of me, drag me out to meet my fate. The belt would be pulled off and whistle in the air before it struck, each successive blow knocking me sideways, burning my flesh. Then the whipping would be over, as abruptly as it had begun. I’d be tossed to the floor, landing in a crumpled heap. A rag doll discarded by an angry toddler.

I was never sure what I had done to trigger this anger, or if I deserved it. I asked my mother why my father was always so angry with me, and she gave a despairing shrug and said, “How should I know? Your father’s completely mad.”

When she said he was mad, she wasn’t joking. If assessed by a psychiatrist today, my father would, I suspect, be diagnosed with a personality disorder—an illness that went untreated for the duration of his life. The result was a childhood and adolescence dominated by hysteria and physical violence: threats, tears, and breaking glass.

There were moments of happiness; usually when my father was away from home. I remember one winter he was in America on a business trip for a month. For thirty days, my mother and I had free rein of the house and garden without his watchful eye. It snowed heavily in London that December, and the whole of our garden was buried beneath a crisp thick white carpet. Mum and I made a snowman. Unconsciously or not, we built him to represent our absent master: I christened him Dad, and with his big belly, two black stones for eyes, and two slanting twigs for stern eyebrows, the resemblance was uncanny. We completed the illusion by giving him my father’s gloves, hat, and umbrella. Then we pelted him violently with snowballs, giggling like naughty children.

There was a heavy snowstorm that night. My mother went to bed and I pretended to sleep, then I snuck out to the garden and stood under the falling snow. I held my hands outstretched, catching snowflakes, watching them vanish on my fingertips. It felt joyous and frustrating and spoke to some truth I couldn’t express; my vocabulary was too limited, my words too loose a net in which to catch it. Somehow grasping at vanishing snowflakes is like grasping at happiness: an act of possession that instantly gives way to nothing. It reminded me that there was a world outside this house: a world of vastness and unimaginable beauty; a world that, for now, remained out of my reach. That memory has repeatedly returned to me over the years. It’s as if the misery that surrounded that brief moment of freedom made it burn even brighter: a tiny light surrounded by darkness.

My only hope of survival, I realized, was to retreat—physically as well as psychically. I had to get away, far away. Only then would I be safe. And eventually, at eighteen, I got the grades I needed to secure a place at university. I left that semi-detached prison in Surrey—and I thought I was free.

I was wrong.

I didn’t know it then, but it was too late—I had internalized my father, introjected him, buried him deep in my unconscious. No matter how far I ran, I carried him with me wherever I went. I was pursued by an infernal, relentless chorus of furies, all with his voice—shrieking that I was worthless, shameful, a failure.

During my first term at university, that first cold winter, the voices got so bad, so paralyzing, they controlled me. Immobilized by fear, I was unable to go out, socialize, or make any friends. I might as well have never left home. It was hopeless. I was defeated, trapped. Backed into a corner. No way out.

Only one solution presented itself.

I went from chemist to chemist buying packets of paracetamol. I bought only a few packets at a time to avoid arousing suspicion—but I needn’t have worried. No one paid me the least attention; I was clearly as invisible as I felt.

It was cold in my room, and my fingers were numb and clumsy as I tore open the packets. It took an immense effort to swallow all the tablets. But I forced them all down, pill after bitter pill. Then I crawled onto my uncomfortable narrow bed. I shut my eyes and waited for death.

But death didn’t come.

Instead a searing, gut-wrenching pain tore through my insides. I doubled up and vomited, throwing up bile and half-digested pills all over myself. I lay in the dark, a fire burning in my stomach, for what seemed like eternity. And then, slowly, in the darkness, I realized something.

I didn’t want to die. Not yet; not when I hadn’t lived.

This gave me a kind of hope, however murky and ill defined. It propelled me at any rate to acknowledge that I couldn’t do this alone: I needed help.

I found it—in the form of Ruth, a psychotherapist referred to me through the university counseling service. Ruth was white-haired and plump and had something grandmotherly about her. She had a sympathetic smile—a smile I wanted to believe in. She didn’t say much at first. She just listened while I talked. I talked about my childhood, my home, my parents. As I talked, I found that no matter how distressing the details I related, I could feel nothing. I was disconnected from my emotions, like a hand severed from a wrist. I talked about painful memories and suicidal impulses—but couldn’t feel them.

I would, however, occasionally look up at Ruth’s face. To my surprise, tears would be collecting in her eyes as she listened. This may seem hard to grasp, but those tears were not hers.

They were mine.

At the time I didn’t understand. But that’s how therapy works. A patient delegates his unacceptable feelings to his therapist; and she holds everything he is afraid to feel, and she feels it for him. Then, ever so slowly, she feeds his feelings back to him. As Ruth fed mine back to me.

We continued seeing each other for several years, Ruth and I. She remained the one constant in my life. Through her, I internalized a new kind of relationship with another human being: one based on mutual respect, honesty, and kindness—not recrimination, anger, and violence. I slowly started to feel differently inside about myself—less empty, more capable of feeling, less afraid. The hateful internal chorus never entirely left me—but I now had Ruth’s voice to counter it, and I paid less attention. As a result, the voices in my head grew quieter and would temporarily vanish. I’d feel peaceful—even happy, sometimes.

Psychotherapy had quite literally saved my life. More important, it had transformed the quality of that life. The talking cure was central to who I became—in a profound sense, it defined me.

It was, I knew, my vocation.

After university, I trained as a psychotherapist in London. Throughout my training, I continued seeing Ruth. She remained supportive and encouraging, although she warned me to be realistic about the path I was undertaking: “It’s no walk in the park” was how she put it. She was right. Working with patients, getting my hands dirty—well, it proved far from comfortable.

I remember my first visit to a secure psychiatric unit. Within a few minutes of my arrival, a patient had pulled down his pants, squatted, and defecated in front of me. A stinking pile of shit. And subsequent incidents, less stomach-churning but just as dramatic—messy botched suicides, attempts at self-harm, uncontained hysteria and grief—all felt more than I could bear. But each time, somehow, I drew on hitherto untapped resilience. It got easier.

It’s odd how quickly one adapts to the strange new world of a psychiatric unit. You become increasingly comfortable with madness—and not just the madness of others, but your own. We’re all crazy, I believe, just in different ways.

Which is why—and how—I related to Alicia Berenson. I was one of the lucky ones. Thanks to a successful therapeutic intervention at a young age, I was able to pull back from the brink of psychic darkness. In my mind, however, the other narrative remained forever a possibility: I might have gone crazy—and ended my days locked in an institution, like Alicia. There but for the grace of God …

I couldn’t say any of this to Indira Sharma when she asked why I became a psychotherapist. It was an interview panel, after all—and if nothing else, I knew how to play the game.

“In the end,” I said, “I believe the training makes you into a psychotherapist. Regardless of your initial intentions.”

Indira nodded sagely. “Yes, quite right. Very true.”

The interview went well. My experience of working at Broadmoor gave me an edge, Indira said—demonstrating I could cope with extreme psychological distress. I was offered the job on the spot, and I accepted.

One month later, I was on my way to the Grove.


I ARRIVED AT THE GROVE pursued by an icy January wind. The bare trees stood like skeletons along the road. The sky was white, heavy with snow that had yet to fall.

I stood outside the entrance and reached for my cigarettes in my pocket. I hadn’t smoked in over a week—I’d promised myself that this time I meant it, I’d quit for good. Yet here I was, already giving in. I lit one, feeling annoyed with myself. Psychotherapists tend to view smoking as an unresolved addiction—one that any decent therapist should have worked through and overcome. I didn’t want to walk in reeking of cigarettes, so I popped a couple of mints into my mouth and chewed them while I smoked, hopping from foot to foot.

I was shivering—but if I’m honest, it was more with nerves than cold. I was having doubts. My consultant at Broadmoor had made no bones about saying I was making a mistake. He hinted a promising career was being cut short by my departure, and he was sniffy about the Grove, and Professor Diomedes in particular.

“An unorthodox man. Does a lot of work with group relations—worked with Foulkes for a while. Ran some kind of alternative therapeutic community in the eighties in Hertfordshire. Not economically viable, those models of therapy, especially today…” He hesitated a second, then went on in a lower voice, “I’m not trying to scare you, Theo. But I’ve heard rumblings about that place getting axed. You could find yourself out of a job in six months.… Are you sure you won’t reconsider?”

I hesitated, but only out of politeness. “Quite sure.”

He shook his head. “Seems like career suicide to me. But if you’ve made your decision…”

I didn’t tell him about Alicia Berenson, about my desire to treat her. I could have put it in terms he might understand: working with her might lead to a book or publication of some kind. But I knew there was little point; he’d still say I was making a mistake. Perhaps he was right. I was about to find out.

I stubbed out my cigarette, banished my nerves, and went inside.

The Grove was located in the oldest part of Edgware hospital. The original redbrick Victorian building had long since been surrounded and dwarfed by larger, and generally uglier, additions and extensions. The Grove lay in the heart of this complex. The only hint of its dangerous occupants was the line of security cameras perched on the fences like watching birds of prey. In reception, every effort had been made to make it appear friendly—large blue couches, crude, childish artwork by the patients taped to the walls. It looked to me more like a kindergarten than a secure psychiatric unit.

A tall man appeared at my side. He grinned at me and held out his hand. He introduced himself as Yuri, head psychiatric nurse. “Welcome to the Grove. Not much of a welcoming committee, I’m afraid. Just me.”

Yuri was good-looking, well built, and in his late thirties. He had dark hair and a tribal tattoo creeping up his neck, above his collar. He smelled of tobacco and too much sweet aftershave.

Although he spoke with an accent, his English was perfect. “I moved here from Latvia seven years ago, and I didn’t speak a word of English when I arrived. But in a year I was fluent.”

“That’s very impressive.”

“Not really. English is an easy language. You should try Latvian.”

He laughed and reached for the jangling chain of keys around his belt. He pulled off a set and handed it to me. “You’ll need these for the individual rooms. And there are codes you need to know for the wards.”

“That’s a lot. I had fewer keys at Broadmoor.”

“Yeah, well. We stepped up security quite a bit recently—since Stephanie joined us.”

“Who’s Stephanie?”

Yuri didn’t reply, but nodded at the woman emerging from the office behind the reception desk.

She was Caribbean, in her midforties, with a sharp, angular bob. “I’m Stephanie Clarke. Manager of the Grove.”

Stephanie gave me an unconvincing smile. As I shook her hand, I noticed her grip was firmer and tighter than Yuri’s, and rather less welcoming.

“As manager of this unit, safety is my top priority. Both the safety of the patients, and of the staff. If you aren’t safe, then neither are your patients.” She handed me a small device—a personal attack alarm. “Carry this with you at all times. Don’t just leave it in your office.”

I resisted the inclination to say, Yes, ma’am. Better keep on the right side of her if I wanted an easy life. That had been my tactic with previous bossy ward managers—avoid confrontation and keep under their radar.

“Good to meet you, Stephanie.” I smiled.

Stephanie nodded but didn’t smile back. “Yuri will show you to your office.” She turned and marched off without a second glance.

“Follow me,” Yuri said.

I went with him to the ward entrance—a large reinforced steel door. Next to it, a metal detector was manned by a security guard.

“I’m sure you know the drill,” Yuri said. “No sharp objects—nothing that could be used as a weapon.”

“No lighters,” added the security guard as he frisked me, fishing my lighter from my pocket with an accusing look.

“Sorry. I forgot I had it.”

Yuri beckoned me to follow him. “I’ll show you to your office. Everyone’s in the Community meeting, so it’s pretty quiet.”

“Can I join them?”

“In Community?” Yuri looked surprised. “You don’t want to settle in first?”

“I can settle in later. If it’s all the same to you?”

He shrugged. “Whatever you want. This way.”

He led me down interconnecting corridors punctuated by locked doors—a rhythm of slams and bolts and keys turning in locks. We made slow progress.

It was obvious not much had been spent on the upkeep of the building in several years: paint was crawling away from the walls, and a faint musty smell of mildew and decay permeated the corridors.

Yuri stopped outside a closed door and nodded. “They’re in there. Go ahead.”

“Okay, thanks.”

I hesitated, preparing myself. Then I opened the door and went inside.


COMMUNITY WAS HELD IN A LONG ROOM with tall barred windows that overlooked a redbrick wall. The smell of coffee was in the air, mingled with traces of Yuri’s aftershave. About thirty people were sitting in a circle. Most were clutching paper cups of tea or coffee, yawning and doing their best to wake up. Some, having drunk their coffees, were fidgeting with the empty cups, crumpling, flattening them, or tearing them to shreds.

Community met once or twice daily; it was something between an administrative meeting and a group therapy session. Items relating to the running of the unit or the patients’ care were put on the agenda to be discussed. It was, Professor Diomedes was fond of saying, an attempt to involve the patients in their own treatment and encourage them to take responsibility for their well-being, although this attempt didn’t always work. Diomedes’s background in group therapy meant he had a fondness for meetings of all kinds, and he encouraged as much group work as possible. You might say he was happiest with an audience. He had the faint air of a theatrical impresario, I thought, as he rose to his feet to greet me, hands outstretched in welcome, and beckoned me over.

“Theo. There you are. Join us, join us.”

He spoke with a slight Greek accent, barely detectable—he’d mostly lost it, having lived in England for over thirty years. He was handsome, and although in his sixties, he looked much younger—he had a youthful, mischievous manner, more like an irreverent uncle than a psychiatrist. This isn’t to say he wasn’t devoted to the patients in his care—he arrived before the cleaners did in the morning and stayed long after the night team had taken over from the day staff, sometimes spending the night on the couch in his office. Twice divorced, Diomedes was fond of saying his third and most successful marriage was to the Grove.

“Sit down here.” He gestured to an empty chair by his side. “Sit, sit, sit.”

I did as he asked.

Diomedes presented me with a flourish. “Allow me to introduce our new psychotherapist. Theo Faber. I hope you will join me in welcoming Theo to our little family—”

While Diomedes spoke, I glanced around the circle, looking for Alicia. But couldn’t see her anywhere. Apart from Professor Diomedes, impeccably dressed in suit and tie, the others were mostly in short-sleeved shirts or T-shirts. It was hard to tell who was a patient and who was a member of staff.

A couple of faces were familiar to me—Christian, for instance. I had known him at Broadmoor. A rugby-playing psychiatrist with a broken nose and a dark beard. Good-looking in a bashed-up kind of way. He’d left Broadmoor soon after I arrived. I didn’t like Christian much, but to be fair I hadn’t known him well, as we didn’t work together for long.

I remembered Indira, from the interview. She smiled at me, and I was grateful, for hers was the only friendly face. The patients mostly glared at me with surly mistrust. I didn’t blame them. The abuses they had suffered—physical, psychological, sexual—meant it would be a long time before they could trust me, if ever. The patients were all women—and most had course features, lined, scarred. They’d had difficult lives, suffering from horrors that had driven them to retreat into the no-man’s-land of mental illness; their journey was etched into their faces, impossible to miss.

But Alicia Berenson? Where was she? I looked around the circle again but still couldn’t find her. Then I realized—I was looking right at her. Alicia was sitting directly opposite me, across the circle.

I hadn’t seen her because she was invisible.

Alicia was slumped forward in the chair. She was obviously highly sedated. She was holding a paper cup, full of tea, and her trembling hand was spilling a steady stream of it onto the floor. I restrained myself from going over and straightening her cup. She was so out of it I doubt she’d have noticed if I had.

I hadn’t expected her to be in such bad shape. There were some echoes of the beautiful woman she had once been: deep blue eyes; a face of perfect symmetry. But she was too thin and looked unclean. Her long red hair was hanging in a dirty, tangled mess around her shoulders. Her fingernails were chewed and torn. Faded scars were visible on both her wrists—the same scars I’d seen faithfully rendered in the Alcestis portrait. Her fingers didn’t stop trembling, doubtless a side effect of the drug cocktail she was on—risperidone and other heavyweight antipsychotics. And glistening saliva was collecting around her open mouth, uncontrollable drooling being another unfortunate side effect of the medication.

I noticed Diomedes looking at me. I pulled my attention away from Alicia and focused on him.

“I’m sure you can introduce yourself better than I can, Theo,” he said. “Won’t you say a few words?”

“Thank you.” I nodded. “I don’t really have anything to add. Just that I’m very happy to be here. Excited, nervous, hopeful. And I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone—particularly the patients. I—”

I was interrupted by a sudden bang as the door was thrown open. At first I thought I was seeing things. A giant charged into the room, holding two jagged wooden spikes, which she raised high above her head and then threw at us like spears. One of the patients covered her eyes and screamed.

I half expected the spears to impale us, but they landed with some force on the floor in the middle of the circle. Then I saw they weren’t spears at all. It was a pool cue, snapped in two.

The massive patient, a dark-haired Turkish woman in her forties, shouted, “Pisses me off. Pool cue’s been broke a week and you still ain’t fucking replaced it.”

“Watch your language, Elif,” said Diomedes. “I’m not prepared to discuss the matter of the pool cue until we decide whether it’s appropriate to allow you to join Community at such a late juncture.” He turned his head slyly and threw the question at me. “What do you think, Theo?”

I blinked and took a second to find my voice. “I think it’s important to respect time boundaries and arrive on time for Community—”

“Like you did, you mean?” said a man across the circle.

I turned and saw it was Christian who had spoken. He laughed, amused by his own joke.

I forced a smile and turned back to Elif. “He’s quite right, I was also late this morning. So maybe it’s a lesson we can learn together.”

“What you on about?” Elif said. “Who the fuck are you anyway?”

“Elif. Mind your language,” said Diomedes. “Don’t make me put you on time-out. Sit down.”

Elif remained standing. “And what about the pool cue?”

The question was addressed to Diomedes—and he looked at me, waiting for me to answer it.

“Elif, I can see you’re angry about the pool cue,” I said. “I suspect whoever broke it was also angry. It raises the question of what we do with anger in an institution like this. How about we stick with that and talk about anger for a moment? Won’t you sit down?”

Elif rolled her eyes. But she sat down.

Indira nodded, looking pleased. We started talking about anger, Indira and I, trying to draw the patients into a discussion about their angry feelings. We worked well together, I thought. I could sense Diomedes watching, evaluating my performance. He seemed satisfied.

I glanced at Alicia. And to my surprise, she was looking at me—or at least in my direction. There was a dim fogginess in her expression—as if it was a struggle to focus her eyes and see.

If you told me this broken shell had once been the brilliant Alicia Berenson, described by those who knew her as dazzling, fascinating, full of life—I simply wouldn’t have believed you. I knew then and there I’d made the right decision in coming to the Grove. All my doubts vanished. 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.


PROFESSOR DIOMEDES’S OFFICE was in the oldest and most decrepit part of the hospital. There were cobwebs in the corners, and only a couple of the lights in the corridor were working. I knocked at the door, and after a moment’s pause I heard his voice from inside.

“Come in.”

I turned the handle and the door creaked open. I was immediately struck by the smell inside the room. It smelled different from the rest of the hospital. It didn’t smell like antiseptic or bleach; rather bizarrely, it smelled like an orchestra pit. It smelled of wood, strings and bows, polish, and wax. It took a moment for my eyes to become accustomed to the gloom, then I noticed the upright piano against the wall, an incongruous object in a hospital. Twenty-odd metallic music stands gleamed in the shadows, and a stack of sheet music was piled high on a table, an unsteady paper tower reaching for the sky. A violin was on another table, next to an oboe, and a flute. And beside it, a harp—a huge thing with a beautiful wooden frame and a shower of strings.

I stared at it all openmouthed.

Diomedes laughed. “You’re wondering about the instruments?” He sat behind his desk, chuckling.

“Are they yours?”

“They are. Music is my hobby. No, I lie—it is my passion.” He pointed his finger in the air dramatically. The professor had an animated way of speaking, employing a wide range of hand gestures to accompany and underscore his speech—as if he were conducting an invisible orchestra. “I run an informal musical group, open to whoever wishes to join—staff and patients alike. I find music to be a most effective therapeutic tool.” He paused to recite in a lilting, musical tone, “‘Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast.’ Do you agree?”

“I’m sure you’re right.”

“Hmm.” Diomedes peered at me for a moment. “Do you play?”

“Play what?”

“Anything. A triangle is a start.”

I shook my head. “I’m not very musical. I played the recorder a bit at school when I was young. That was about it.”

“Then you can read music? That is an advantage. Good. Choose any instrument. I will teach you.”

I smiled and again shook my head. “I’m afraid I’m not patient enough.”

“No? Well, patience is a virtue you would do well to cultivate as a psychotherapist. You know, in my youth, I was undecided whether I should be a musician, a priest, or a doctor.” Diomedes laughed. “And now I am all three.”

“I suppose that’s true.”

“You know”—he switched subjects without even a hint of a pause—“I was the deciding voice at your interview. The casting vote, so to speak. I spoke strongly in your favor. You know why? I’ll tell you—I saw something in you, Theo. You remind me of myself.… Who knows? In a few years, you might be running this place.” He left the sentence dangling for a moment, then sighed. “If it’s still here, of course.”

“You think it won’t be?”

“Who knows? Too few patients, too many staff. We are working in close cooperation with the Trust to see if a more ‘economically viable’ model can be found. Which means we are being endlessly watched, evaluated—spied upon. How can we possibly do therapeutic work under such conditions? you might well ask. As Winnicott said, you can’t practice therapy in a burning building.” Diomedes shook his head and looked his age suddenly—exhausted and weary. He lowered his voice and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. “I believe the manager, Stephanie Clarke, is in league with them. The Trust pays her salary, after all. Watch her, and you’ll see what I mean.”

I thought Diomedes was sounding a little paranoid, but perhaps that was understandable. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing, so I remained diplomatically silent for a moment. And then—

“I want to ask you something. About Alicia.”

“Alicia Berenson?” Diomedes gave me a strange look. “What about her?”

“I’m curious what kind of therapeutic work is being done with her. Is she in individual therapy?”


“Is there a reason?”

“It was tried—and abandoned.”

“Why was that? Who saw her? Indira?”

“No.” Diomedes shook his head. “I saw Alicia myself, as a matter of fact.”

“I see. What happened?”

He shrugged. “She refused to visit me in my office, so I went to see her in her room. During the sessions, she simply sat on her bed and stared out of the window. She refused to speak, of course. She refused to even look at me.” He threw up his hands, exasperated. “I decided the whole thing was a waste of time.”

I nodded. “I suppose … well, I’m wondering about the transference.…”

“Yes?” Diomedes peered at me with curiosity. “Go on.”

“It’s possible, isn’t it, that she experienced you as an authoritarian presence … perhaps—potentially punitive? I don’t know what her relationship with her father was like, but…”

Diomedes listened with a small smile, as if he were being told a joke and anticipating the punch line. “But you think she might find it easier to relate to someone younger? Let me guess.… Someone like you? You think you can help her, Theo? You can rescue Alicia? Make her talk?”

“I don’t know about rescuing her, but I’d like to help her. I’d like to try.”

Diomedes smiled, still with the same sense of amusement. “You are not the first. I believed I would succeed. Alicia is a silent siren, my boy, luring us to the rocks, where we dash our therapeutic ambition to pieces.” He smiled again. “She taught me a valuable lesson in failure. Perhaps you need to learn the same lesson.”

I met his gaze defiantly. “Unless, of course, I succeed.”

Diomedes’s smile vanished, replaced by something harder to read. He remained silent for a moment, then made a decision.

“We’ll see, shall we? First, you must meet Alicia. You’ve not been introduced to her yet, have you?”

“Not yet, no.”

“Then ask Yuri to arrange it, will you? Report back to me afterwards.”

“Good.” I tried to conceal my excitement. “I will.”


THE THERAPY ROOM WAS A SMALL, narrow rectangle; as bare as a prison cell, or barer. The window was closed and barred. A bright pink box of tissues on the small table struck a discordantly cheerful note—presumably it was placed there by Indira: I couldn’t imagine Christian offering tissues to his patients.

I sat on one of two battered, faded armchairs. The minutes passed. No sign of Alicia. Perhaps she wasn’t coming? Perhaps she had refused to meet me. She would be perfectly within her rights.

Impatient, anxious, nervous, I abandoned sitting and jumped up and walked to the window. I peered out between the bars.

The courtyard was three stories below me. The size of a tennis court, it was surrounded by tall redbrick walls, walls that were too high to climb, though doubtless some had tried. Patients were herded outside for thirty minutes of fresh air every afternoon, whether they wanted it or not, and in this freezing weather I didn’t blame them for resisting. Some stood alone, muttering to themselves, or they paced back and forth, like restless zombies, going nowhere. Others huddled in groups, talking, smoking, arguing. Voices and shouts and strange excitable laughter floated up to me.

I couldn’t see Alicia at first. Then I located her. She was standing alone at the far end of the courtyard, by the wall. Perfectly still, like a statue. Yuri walked across the courtyard toward her. He spoke to the nurse standing a few feet away. The nurse nodded. Yuri went up Alicia cautiously, slowly, as you might approach an unpredictable animal.

I had asked him not to go into too much detail, merely to tell Alicia the new psychotherapist at the unit would like to meet her. I requested he phrase it as a request, not a demand. Alicia stood still as he spoke to her. But she neither nodded nor shook her head nor gave any indication of having heard him. After a brief pause, Yuri turned and walked off.

Well, that’s it, I thought—she won’t come. Fuck it, I should have known. The whole thing has been a waste of time.

Then, to my surprise, Alicia took a step forward. Faltering a little, she shuffled after Yuri across the courtyard—until they disappeared from view under my window.

So she was coming. I tried to contain my nerves and prepare myself. I tried to silence the negative voice in my head—my father’s voice—telling me I wasn’t up to the job, I was useless, a fraud. Shut up, I thought, shut up, shut up—

A couple of minutes later, there was a knock at the door.

“Come in.”

The door opened. Alicia was standing with Yuri in the corridor. I looked at her. But she didn’t look at me; her gaze remained downcast.

Yuri gave me a proud smile. “She’s here.”

“Yes. I can see that. Hello, Alicia.”

She didn’t respond.

“Won’t you come in?”

Yuri leaned forward as if to nudge her, but he didn’t actually touch her. Instead he whispered, “Go on, honey. Go in and take a seat.”

Alicia hesitated. She glanced at him, then made a decision. She walked into the room, slightly unsteadily. She sat on a chair, silent as a cat, her trembling hands in her lap.

I was about to shut the door, but Yuri didn’t leave. I lowered my voice. “I can take it from here, thanks.”

Yuri looked worried. “But she’s on one-on-one. And the professor said—”

“I’ll take full responsibility. It’s quite all right.” I took my personal attack alarm out of my pocket. “See, I have this—but I won’t need it.”

I glanced at Alicia. She gave no indication she had even heard me.

Yuri shrugged, obviously unhappy. “I’ll be on the other side of the door, just in case you need me.”

“That’s not necessary, but thanks.”

Yuri left, and I closed the door. I placed the alarm on the desk. I sat opposite Alicia. She didn’t look up. I studied her for a moment. Her face was expressionless, blank. A medicated mask. I wondered what lay beneath.

“I’m glad you agreed to see me.” I waited for a response. I knew there wouldn’t be one. “I have the advantage of knowing more about you than you do about me. Your reputation precedes you—your reputation as a painter, I mean. I’m a fan of your work.” No reaction. I shifted in my seat slightly. “I asked Professor Diomedes if we might talk, and he kindly arranged this meeting. Thank you for agreeing to it.”

I hesitated, hoping for an acknowledgment of some kind—a blink, a nod, a frown. Nothing came. I tried to guess what she was thinking. Perhaps she was too drugged up to think anything at all.

I thought of my old therapist, Ruth. What she would do? She used to say we are made up of different parts, some good, some bad, and that a healthy mind can tolerate this ambivalence and juggle both good and bad at the same time. Mental illness is precisely about a lack of this kind of integration—we end up losing contact with the unacceptable parts of ourselves. If I was to help Alicia, we would have to locate the parts she had hidden from herself, beyond the fringes of consciousness, and connect the various dots in her mental landscape. Only then could we put into context the terrible events of that night she killed her husband. It would be a slow, laborious process.

Normally when beginning with a patient, there is no sense of urgency, no predetermined therapeutic agenda. Normally we start with many months of talking. In an ideal world, Alicia would tell me about herself, her life, her childhood. I would listen, slowly building up a picture until it was complete enough for me to make accurate, helpful interpretations. In this case, there would be no talking. No listening. The information I needed would have to be gathered through nonverbal clues, such as my countertransference—the feelings Alicia engendered in me during the sessions—and whatever information I could gather from other sources.

In other words, I had set into motion a plan to help Alicia without actually knowing how to execute it. Now I had to deliver, not just to prove myself to Diomedes, but, far more important, to do my duty to Alicia: to help her.

Looking at her sitting opposite me, in a medicated haze, drool collecting around her mouth, fingers fluttering like dirty moths, I experienced a sudden and unexpected wrench of sadness. I felt desperately sorry for her, and those like her—for all of us, all the wounded and the lost.

Of course, I said none of this to her. Instead I did what Ruth would have done.

And we simply sat in silence.


I OPENED ALICIA’S FILE ON MY DESK. Diomedes had volunteered it: “You must read my notes. They will help you.”

I had no desire to wade through his notes; I already knew what Diomedes thought; I needed to find out what I thought. But nonetheless I accepted it politely.

“Thank you. That will be such a help.”

My office was small and sparsely furnished, tucked away at the back of the building, by the fire escape. I looked out the window. A little black bird was pecking at a patch of frozen grass on the ground outside, dispiritedly and without much hope.

I shivered. The room was freezing. The small radiator under the window was broken—Yuri said he’d try to get it fixed, but that my best bet was to talk to Stephanie or, failing that, bring it up in Community. I felt a sudden pang of empathy with Elif and her battle to get the broken pool cue replaced.

I looked through Alicia’s file without much expectation. The majority of the information I needed was in the online database. Diomedes, however, like a lot of older staff members, preferred to write his reports by hand and (ignoring Stephanie’s nagging requests to the contrary) continued to do so—hence the dog-eared file in front of me.

I flicked through Diomedes’s notes, ignoring his somewhat old-fashioned psychoanalytic interpretations, and focused on the nurses’ handover reports of Alicia’s day-to-day behavior. I read through those reports carefully. I wanted facts, figures, details—I needed to know exactly what I was getting into, what I’d have to deal with, and if any surprises were in store.

The file revealed little. When she was first admitted, Alicia slashed her wrists twice and self-harmed with whatever she could get her hands on. She was kept on two-on-one observation for the first six months—meaning two nurses watched over her at all times—which was eventually relaxed to one-on-one. Alicia made no effort to interact with patients or staff, remaining withdrawn and isolated and for the most part, the other patients had left her alone. If people don’t reply when you speak to them and never initiate conversation, you soon forget they’re there. Alicia had quickly melted into the background, becoming invisible.

Only one incident stood out. It took place in the canteen, a few weeks after Alicia’s admission. Elif accused Alicia of taking her seat. What exactly had happened was unclear, but the confrontation escalated rapidly. Apparently Alicia became violent—she smashed a plate and tried to slash Elif’s throat with the jagged edge. Alicia had to be restrained, sedated, and placed in isolation.

I wasn’t sure why this incident drew my attention. But it didn’t feel right to me. I decided to approach Elif and ask her about it.

I tore off a sheet of paper from a pad and reached for my pen. An old habit, formed at university—something about putting pen to paper helps me organize my mind. I’ve always had difficulty formulating an opinion until I’ve written it down.

I began scribbling ideas, notes, goals—devising a plan of attack. To help Alicia, I needed to understand her, and her relationship with Gabriel. Did she love him? Hate him? What happened to make her kill him? Why had she refused to speak about the murder—or anything else? No answers, not yet—just questions.

I wrote down a word and underlined it: ALCESTIS.

The self-portrait—it was important, somehow, I knew that, and understanding why would be central to unlocking this mystery. This painting was Alicia’s sole communication, her only testimony. It was saying something I had yet to comprehend. I made a note to revisit the gallery to look at the painting again.

I wrote down another word: CHILDHOOD. If I was to make sense of Gabriel’s murder, I needed to understand not only the events of the night Alicia killed him, but also the events of the distant past. The seeds of what happened in those few minutes when she shot her husband were probably sown years earlier. Murderous rage, homicidal rage, is not born in the present. It originates in the land before memory, in the world of early childhood, with abuse and mistreatment, which builds up a charge over the years, until it explodes—often at the wrong target. I needed to find out how her childhood had shaped her, and if Alicia couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me, I had to find someone who would. Someone who knew Alicia before the murder, who could help me understand her history, who she was, and how she ended up this way.

In the file, Alicia’s next of kin was listed as her aunt—Lydia Rose—who brought her up, following the death of Alicia’s mother in a car accident. Alicia had also been in the car crash, but survived. That trauma must have affected the little girl profoundly. I hoped Lydia would be able to tell me about it.

The only other contact was Alicia’s lawyer: Max Berenson. Max was Gabriel Berenson’s brother. He was perfectly placed to observe their marriage intimately. Whether Max Berenson would confide in me was another matter. An unsolicited approach to Alicia’s family by her psychotherapist was unorthodox to say the least. I had a dim feeling Diomedes would not approve. Better not ask his permission, I decided, in case he refused.

As I look back, this was my first professional transgression in dealing with Alicia—setting an unfortunate precedent for what followed. I should have stopped there. But even then it was too late to stop. In many ways my fate was already decided—like in a Greek tragedy.

I reached for the phone. I called Max Berenson at his office, using the contact number listed in Alicia’s file. It rang several times before it was answered.

“The offices of Elliot, Barrow, and Berenson,” said a receptionist with a bad cold.

“Mr. Berenson, please.”

“May I ask who is calling?”

“My name is Theo Faber. I’m a psychotherapist at the Grove. I was wondering if it might be possible to have a word with Mr. Berenson about his sister-in-law.”

There was a slight pause before she responded. “Oh. I see. Well, Mr. Berenson is out of the office for the rest of the week. He’s in Edinburgh visiting a client. If you leave your number, I’ll have him call you on his return.”

I gave her my number and hung up.

I dialed the next number in the file—Alicia’s aunt, Lydia Rose.

It was answered on the first ring. An elderly woman’s voice sounded breathless and rather annoyed. “Yes? What is it?”

“Is that Mrs. Rose?”

“Who are you?”

“I’m calling regarding your niece, Alicia Berenson. I’m a psychotherapist working at the—”

“Fuck off.” She hung up.

I frowned to myself.

Not a good start.


I DESPERATELY NEEDED A CIGARETTE. As I left the Grove, I looked for them in my coat pockets, but they weren’t there.

“Looking for something?”

I turned around. Yuri was standing right behind me. I hadn’t heard him and I was a little startled to find him so close.

“I found them in the nurses’ station.” He grinned, handing me my pack of cigarettes. “Must have fallen out of your pocket.”

“Thanks.” I took them and lit one. I offered him the packet.

Yuri shook his head. “I don’t smoke. Not cigarettes, anyway.” He laughed. “You look like you need a drink. Come on, I’ll buy you a pint.”

I hesitated. My instinct was to refuse—I had never been one for socializing with work colleagues. And I doubted Yuri and I had much in common. But he probably knew Alicia better than anyone else at the Grove—and his insights might prove useful.

“Sure,” I said. “Why not?”

We went to a pub near the station, the Slaughtered Lamb. Dark and dingy, it had seen better days; so had the old men dozing over their half-finished pints. Yuri got us a couple of beers, and we sat at a table at the back.

Yuri took a long swig of beer and wiped his mouth. “Well? Tell me about Alicia.”


“How did you find her?”

“I’m not sure I did find her.”

Yuri gave me a quizzical look, then smiled. “She doesn’t want to be found? Yeah, it’s true. She’s hiding.”

“You’re close to her. I can see that.”

“I take special care of her. No one knows her like I do, not even Professor Diomedes.”

His voice had a boastful note. It annoyed me for some reason—I wondered how well he really knew her, or if he was just bragging.

“What do you make of her silence? What do you think it means?”

Yuri shrugged. “I guess it means she’s not ready to talk. She’ll talk when she’s ready.”

“Ready for what?”

“Ready for the truth, my friend.”

“And what is that?”

Yuri cocked his head to one side slightly, studying me. The question that came out of his mouth surprised me.

“Are you married, Theo?”

I nodded. “I am, yes.”

“Yeah, I thought so. I was married once too. We moved here from Latvia. But she didn’t fit in like I did. She didn’t make an effort, you know, she didn’t learn English. Anyway, it wasn’t … I wasn’t happy—but I was in denial, lying to myself.…” He drained his drink and completed his sentence. “Until I fell in love.”

“Presumably you don’t mean with your wife?”

Yuri laughed and shook his head. “No. A woman who lived near me. A very beautiful woman. It was love at first sight. I saw her on the street. It took me a long time to get the courage to talk her. I used to follow her.… I’d watch her sometimes, without her knowing. I’d stand outside her house and look, hoping she would appear at the window.” He laughed.

This story was starting to make me feel uncomfortable. I finished my beer and glanced at my watch, hoping Yuri would take the hint, but he didn’t.

“One day I tried speaking to her. But she wasn’t interested in me. I tried a few times, but she told me to stop pestering her.”

I didn’t blame her, I thought. I was about to make my excuses, but Yuri kept talking.

“It was very hard to accept. I was sure we were meant to be together. She broke my heart. I got very angry with her. Very mad.”

“And what happened?” I was curious despite myself.


“Nothing? You stayed with your wife?”

Yuri shook his head. “No. It was over with her. But it took falling for this woman for me to admit it … to face the truth about me and my wife. Sometimes it takes courage, you know, and a long time, to be honest.”

“I see. And you think Alicia’s not ready to face the truth about her marriage? Is that what you’re saying? You may well be right.”

Yuri shrugged. “And now I’m engaged to a nice girl from Hungary. She works in a spa. She speaks good English. We’re a good match. We have a good time.”

I nodded and checked my watch again. I picked up my coat. “I have to go. I’m late to meet my wife.”

“Okay, no problem … What’s her name? Your wife?”

For some reason, I didn’t want to tell him. I didn’t want Yuri to know anything about her. But that was stupid.

“Kathryn. Her name is Kathryn. But I call her Kathy.”

Yuri gave me an odd smile. “Let me give you some advice. Go home to your wife. Go home to Kathy, who loves you.… And leave Alicia behind.”


I WENT TO MEET KATHY at the National Theatre café on the South Bank, where the performers would often congregate after rehearsal. She was sitting at the back of the café with a couple of fellow actresses, deep in conversation. They looked up at me as I approached.

“Are your ears burning, darling?” Kathy said as she kissed me.

“Should they be?”

“I’m telling the girls all about you.”

“Ah. Should I leave?”

“Don’t be silly. Sit down—it’s perfect timing. I’ve just got to how we met.”

I sat down, and Kathy continued her story. It was a story she enjoyed telling. She occasionally glanced in my direction and smiled, as if to include me—but the gesture was perfunctory, for this was her tale, not mine.

“I was sitting at a bar when he finally showed up. At last, when I’d given up hope of ever finding him—in he walked, the man of my dreams. Better late than never. I thought I was going to be married by the time I was twenty-five, you know? By thirty, I was going to have two kids, small dog, big mortgage. But here I was, thirty-three-ish, and things hadn’t quite gone to plan.” Kathy said this with an arch smile and winked at the girls.

“Anyway I was seeing this Australian guy called Daniel. But he didn’t want to get married or have kids anytime soon, so I knew I was wasting my time. And we were out one night when suddenly it happened—Mr. Right walked in.” Kathy looked at me and smiled and rolled her eyes. “With his girlfriend.”

This part of the story needed careful handling to retain her audience’s sympathy. Kathy and I were both dating other people when we met. Double infidelity isn’t the most attractive or auspicious start to a relationship, particularly as we were introduced to each other by our then partners. They knew each other for some reason, I can’t remember the precise details—Marianne had once gone out with Daniel’s flatmate possibly, or the other way around. I don’t remember exactly how we were introduced, but I do remember the first moment I saw Kathy. It was like an electric shock. I remember her long black hair, piercing green eyes, her mouth—she was beautiful, exquisite. An angel.

At this point in telling the tale, Kathy paused and smiled and reached for my hand. “Remember, Theo? How we got talking? You said you were training to be a shrink. And I said I was nuts—so it was a match made in heaven.”

This got a big laugh from the girls. Kathy laughed too and glanced at me sincerely, anxiously, her eyes searching mine. “No, but … darling … seriously, it was love at first sight. Wasn’t it?”

This was my cue. I nodded and kissed her cheek. “Of course it was. True love.”

This received a look of approval from her friends. But I wasn’t performing. She was right, it was love at first sight—well, lust anyway. Even though I was with Marianne that night, I couldn’t keep my eyes off Kathy. I watched her from a distance, talking animatedly to Daniel—and then I saw her lips mouth, Fuck you. They were arguing. It looked heated. Daniel turned and walked out.

“You’re being quiet,” Marianne said. “What’s wrong?”


“Let’s go home, then. I’m tired.”

“Not yet.” I was only half listening. “Let’s have another drink.”

“I want to go now.”

“Then go.”

Marianne shot me a hurt look, then grabbed her jacket and walked out. I knew there’d be a row the next day, but I didn’t care.

I made my way over to Kathy at the bar. “Is Daniel coming back?”

“No. How about Marianne?”

I shook my head. “No. Would you like another drink?”

“Yes, I would.”

So we ordered two more drinks. We stood at the bar, talking. We discussed my psychotherapy training, I remember. And Kathy told me about her stint at drama school—she didn’t stay long, as she signed up with an agent at the end of her first year and had been acting professionally ever since. I imagined, without knowing why, that she was probably rather a good actress.

“Studying wasn’t for me,” she said. “I wanted to get out there and do it—you know?”

“Do what? Act?”

“No. Live.” Kathy tilted her head, looking out from under her dark lashes, her emerald-green eyes peering at me mischievously. “So, Theo. How do you have the patience to keep doing it—studying, I mean?”

“Maybe I don’t want to get out there and ‘live.’ Maybe I’m a coward.”

“No. If you were a coward, you’d have gone home with your girlfriend.” Kathy laughed, a surprisingly wicked laugh.

I wanted to grab her and kiss her hard. I’d never experienced such overwhelming physical desire before; I wanted to pull her close, feel her lips and the heat of her body against mine.

“I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I shouldn’t have said that. I always say whatever pops into my head. I told you, I’m a bit nuts.”

Kathy did that a lot, protesting her insanity—“I’m crazy,” “I’m nuts,” “I’m insane”—but I never believed her. She laughed too easily and too often for me to believe she’d ever suffered the kind of darkness I had experienced. She had a spontaneity, a lightness—she took a delight in living and was endlessly amused by life. Despite her protestations, she seemed the least crazy person I’d ever known. Around her, I felt more sane.

Kathy was American. She was born and brought up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Her English mother gave Kathy dual citizenship, but Kathy didn’t seem even remotely English. She was determinedly, distinctly un-English—not just in the way she spoke, but in the way she saw the world and how she approached it. Such confidence, such exuberance. I’d never met anyone like her.

We left the bar, hailed a cab; I gave the address of my flat. We rode the short journey in silence. When we arrived, she gently pressed her lips to mine. I broke through my reserve and pulled her toward me. We kept kissing as I fumbled with the key to the front door. We were scarcely inside before we were undressing, stumbling into the bedroom, falling onto the bed.

That night was the most erotic, blissful night of my life. I spent hours exploring Kathy’s body. We made love all night, until dawn. I remember so much white everywhere: white sunlight creeping around the edges of the curtains, white walls, white bedsheets; the whites of her eyes, her teeth, her skin. I’d never known that skin could be so luminous, so translucent: ivory white with occasional blue veins visible just beneath the surface, like threads of color in white marble. She was a statue; a Greek goddess come to life in my hands.

We lay there wrapped in each other’s arms. Kathy was facing me, her eyes so close they were out of focus. I gazed into a hazy green sea. “Well?” she said.


“What about Marianne?”


A flicker of a smile. “Your girlfriend.”

“Oh, yes. Yes.” I hesitated, unsure. “I don’t know about Marianne. And Daniel?”

Kathy rolled her eyes. “Forget Daniel. I have.”

“Have you really?”

Kathy responded by kissing me.

Before Kathy left, she took a shower. While she was showering, I phoned Marianne. I wanted to arrange to see her, to tell her face-to-face. But she was annoyed about the previous night and insisted we have it out then and there, on the phone. Marianne wasn’t expecting me to break up with her. But that’s what I did, as gently as I could. She started crying and became upset and angry. I hung up on her. Brutal, yes—and unkind. I’m not proud of that phone call. But it seemed like the only honest action to take. I still don’t know what I could have done differently.

* * *

On our first proper date, Kathy and I met at Kew Gardens. It was her idea.

She was astonished I’d never been. “You’re kidding. You’ve never gone to the greenhouses? There’s this big one with all the tropical orchids and they keep it so hot, it’s like an oven. When I was at drama school, I used to go and hang out there just to warm up. How about we meet there, after you finish work?” Then she hesitated, suddenly unsure. “Or is it too far for you to go?”

“I’d go further than Kew Gardens for you, darling.”

“Idiot.” She kissed me.

Kathy was waiting at the entrance when I arrived, in her enormous coat and scarf, waving like an excited child. “Come on, come on, follow me.”

She led me through the frozen mud to the big glass structure that housed the tropical plants and pushed open the door and charged inside. I followed her and was immediately struck by the sudden rise in temperature, an onslaught of heat. I tore off my scarf and coat.

Kathy smiled. “See? I told you, it’s like a sauna. Ain’t it great?”

We walked around along the paths, carrying our coats, holding hands, looking at the exotic flowers.

I felt an unfamiliar happiness just being in her company, as though a secret door had been opened, and Kathy had beckoned me across the threshold—into a magical world of warmth and light and color, and hundreds of orchids in a dazzling confetti of blues and reds and yellows.

I could feel myself thawing in the heat, softening around the edges, like a tortoise emerging into the sun after a long winter’s sleep, blinking and waking up. Kathy did that for me—she was my invitation to life, one I grasped with both hands.

So this is it, I remember thinking. This is love.

I recognized it without question and knew clearly that I’d never experienced anything like this before. My previous romantic encounters had been brief, unsatisfactory for all concerned. As a student I had summoned up the nerve, aided by a considerable amount of alcohol, to lose my virginity to a Canadian sociology student called Meredith, who wore sharp metal braces that cut into my lips as we kissed. A string of uninspired relationships followed. I never seemed to find the special connection I longed for. I had believed I was too damaged, too incapable of intimacy. But now every time I heard Kathy’s contagious giggle, a wave of excitement ran through me. Through a kind of osmosis, I absorbed her youthful exuberance, her unself-consciousness and joy. I said yes to her every suggestion and every whim. I didn’t recognize myself. I liked this new person, this unafraid man Kathy inspired me to be. We fucked all the time. I was consumed with lust, perpetually, urgently hungry for her. I needed to keep touching her; I couldn’t get close enough.

Kathy moved in with me that December, into my one-bedroom apartment in Kentish Town. The dank, thickly carpeted basement flat had windows, but with no view. Our first Christmas together, we were determined to do it properly. We bought a tree from the stall by the tube station and dressed it with a jumble of decorations and lights from the market.

I remember vividly the scent of pine needles and wood and candles burning, and Kathy’s eyes staring into mine, sparkling, twinkling like the lights on the tree. I spoke without thinking. The words just came out:

“Will you marry me?”

Kathy stared at me. “What?”

“I love you, Kathy. Will you marry me?”

Kathy laughed. Then, to my joy and amazement, she said, “Yes.”

The next day, we went out and she chose a ring. And the reality of the situation dawned on me. We were engaged.

Bizarrely, the first people I thought of were my parents. I wanted to introduce Kathy to them. I wanted them to see how happy I was, that I had finally escaped, that I was free. So we got the train to Surrey. In hindsight, it was a bad idea. Doomed from the start.

My father greeted me with typical hostility. “You look terrible, Theo. You’re too thin. Your hair is too short. You look like a convict.”

“Thanks, Dad. Good to see you too.”

My mother seemed more depressed than usual. Quieter, smaller somehow, as if she weren’t there. Dad was a heavier presence, unfriendly, glaring, unsmiling. He didn’t take his cold, dark eyes off Kathy the entire time. It was an uncomfortable lunch. They didn’t seem to like her, nor did they seem particularly happy for us. I don’t know why I was surprised.

After lunch, my father disappeared into his study. He didn’t emerge again. When my mother said goodbye, she held on to me for too long, too closely, and was unsteady on her feet. I felt desperately sad. When Kathy and I left the house, part of me hadn’t left, I knew, but had remained behind—forever a child, trapped. I felt lost, hopeless, close to tears. Then Kathy surprised me, as always. She threw her arms around me, pulling me into a hug. “I understand now,” she whispered in my ear. “I understand it all. I love you so much more now.”

She didn’t explain further. She didn’t need to.

* * *

We were married in April, in a small registry office off Euston Square. No parents invited. And no God. Nothing religious, at Kathy’s insistence. But I said a secret prayer during the ceremony. I silently thanked Him for giving me such unexpected, undeserved happiness. I saw things clearly now, I understood His greater purpose. God hadn’t abandoned me during my childhood, when I had felt so alone and so scared—He had been keeping Kathy hidden up His sleeve, waiting to produce her, like a deft magician.

I felt such humility and gratitude for every second we spent together. I was aware how lucky, how incredibly fortunate I was to have such love, how rare it was, and how others weren’t so lucky. Most of my patients weren’t loved. Alicia Berenson wasn’t.

It’s hard to imagine two women more different than Kathy and Alicia. Kathy makes me think of light, warmth, color, and laughter. When I think of Alicia, I think only of depth, of darkness, of sadness.

Of silence.


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



Alicia Berenson’s Diary


I never thought I’d be longing for rain. We’re into our fourth week of the heat wave, and it feels like an endurance test. Each day seems hotter than the last. It doesn’t feel like England. More like a foreign country—Greece or somewhere.

I’m writing this on Hampstead Heath. The whole park is strewn with red-faced, semi-naked bodies, like a beach or a battlefield, on blankets or benches or spread out on the grass. I’m sitting under a tree, in the shade. It’s six o’clock, and it has started to cool down. The sun is low and red in a golden sky—the park looks different in this light—darker shadows, brighter colors. The grass looks like it’s on fire, flickering flames under my feet.

I took off my shoes on my way here and walked barefoot. It reminded me of when I was little and I’d play outside. It reminded me of another summer, hot like this one—the summer Mum died—playing outside with Paul, cycling on our bikes through golden fields dotted with wild daisies, exploring abandoned houses and haunted orchards. In my memory that summer lasts forever. I remember Mum and those colorful tops she’d wear, with the yellow stringy straps, so flimsy and delicate—just like her. She was so thin, like a little bird. She would put on the radio and pick me up and dance me around to pop songs on the radio. I remember how she smelled of shampoo and cigarettes and Nivea hand cream, always with an undertone of vodka. How old was she then? Twenty-eight? Twenty-nine? She was younger then than I am now.

That’s an odd thought.

On my way here I saw a small bird on the path, lying by the roots of a tree. I thought it must have fallen from its nest. It wasn’t moving and I wondered if it had broken its wings. I stroked its head gently with my finger. It didn’t react. I nudged it and turned it over—and the underside of the bird was gone, eaten away, leaving a cavity filled with maggots. Fat, white, slippery maggots … twisting, turning, writhing … I felt my stomach turn—I thought I was going to be sick. It was so foul, so disgusting—deathly.

I can’t get it out of my mind.


I’ve started taking refuge from the heat in an air-conditioned café on the high street—Café de l’Artista. It’s icy cold inside, like climbing into a fridge. There’s a table I like by the window, where I sit drinking iced coffee. Sometimes I read or sketch or make notes. Mostly I just let my mind drift, luxuriating in the coldness. The beautiful girl behind the counter stands there looking bored, staring at her phone, checking her watch, and sighing periodically. Yesterday afternoon, her sighs seemed especially long—and I realized she was waiting for me to go, so she could close up. I left reluctantly.

Walking in this heat feels like wading through mud. I feel worn down, battered, beaten up by it. We’re not equipped for it, not in this country—Gabriel and I don’t have air-conditioning at home—who does? But without it, it’s impossible to sleep. At night we throw off the covers and lie there in the dark, naked, drenched in sweat. We leave the windows open, but there’s no hint of a breeze. Just hot dead air.

I bought an electric fan yesterday. I set it up at the foot of the bed on top of the chest.

Gabriel immediately started complaining. “It makes too much noise. We’ll never sleep.”

“We can’t sleep anyway. At least we won’t be lying here in a sauna.”

Gabriel grumbled, but he fell asleep before I did. I lay there listening to the fan. I like the sound it makes, a gentle whirring. I can shut my eyes and tune in to it and disappear.

I’ve been carrying the fan around the house with me, plugging it in and unplugging it as I move around. This afternoon I took it down to the studio at the end of the garden. Having the fan made it just about bearable. But it’s still too hot to get much work done. I’m falling behind—but too hot to care.

I did have a bit of a breakthrough—I finally understood what’s wrong with the Jesus picture. Why it’s not working. The problem isn’t with the composition—Jesus on the cross—the problem is it’s not a picture of Jesus at all. It doesn’t even look like Him—whatever He looked like. Because it’s not Jesus.

It’s Gabriel.

Incredible that I didn’t see it before. Somehow, without intending to, I’ve put Gabriel up there instead. It’s his face I’ve painted, his body. Isn’t that insane? So I must surrender to that—and do what the painting demands of me.

I know now that when I have an agenda for a picture, a predetermined idea how it should turn out, it never works. It remains stillborn, lifeless. But if I’m really paying attention, really aware, I sometimes hear a whispering voice pointing me in the right direction. And if I give in to it, as an act of faith, it leads me somewhere unexpected, not where I intended, but somewhere intensely alive, glorious—and the result is independent of me, with a life force of its own.

I suppose what scares me is giving in to the unknown. I like to know where I’m going. That’s why I always make so many sketches—trying to control the outcome—no wonder nothing comes to life—because I’m not really responding to what’s going on in front of me. I need to open my eyes and look—and be aware of life as it is happening, and not simply how I want it to be. Now I know it’s a portrait of Gabriel, I can go back to it. I can start again.

I’ll ask him to pose for me. He hasn’t sat for me in a long time. I hope he likes the idea—and doesn’t think it’s sacrilegious or anything.

He can be funny like that sometimes.


I walked down the hill to Camden market this morning. I’ve not been there in years, not since Gabriel and I went together one afternoon in search of his lost youth. He used to go when he was a teenager, when he and his friends had been up all night, dancing, drinking, talking. They’d turn up at the market in the early morning and watch the traders set up their stalls and try and score some grass from the Rastafarian dealers hanging out on the bridge by Camden Lock. The dealers were no longer there when Gabriel and I went—to Gabriel’s dismay. “I don’t recognize it here anymore,” he said. “It’s a sanitized tourist trap.”

Walking around today, I wondered if the problem wasn’t that the market had changed as the fact Gabriel had changed. It’s still populated by sixteen-year-olds, embracing the sunshine, sprawled on either side of the canal, a jumble of bodies—boys in rolled-up shorts with bare chests, girls in bikinis or bras—skin everywhere, burning, reddening flesh. The sexual energy was palpable—their hungry, impatient thirst for life. I felt a sudden desire for Gabriel—for his body and his strong legs, his thighs thick lain over mine. When we have sex, I always feel an insatiable hunger for him—for a kind of union between us—something that’s bigger than me, bigger than us, beyond words—something holy.

Suddenly I caught sight of a homeless man, sitting by me on the pavement, staring at me. His trousers were tied up with string, his shoes held together with tape. His skin had sores and a bumpy rash across his face. I felt a sudden sadness and revulsion. He stank of stale sweat and urine. For a second I thought he spoke to me. But he was just swearing to himself under his breath—“fucking” this and “fucking” that. I fished for some change in my bag and gave it to him.

Then I walked home, back up the hill, slowly, step by step. It seemed much steeper now. It took forever in the sweltering heat. For some reason I couldn’t stop thinking about the homeless man. Apart from pity, there was another feeling, unnamable somehow—a kind of fear. I pictured him as a baby in his mother’s arms. Did she ever imagine her baby would end up crazy, dirty and stinking, huddled on the pavement, muttering obscenities?

I thought of my mother. Was she crazy? Is that why she did it? Why she strapped me into the passenger seat of her yellow mini and sped us toward that redbrick wall? I always liked that car, its cheerful canary yellow. The same yellow as in my paint box. Now I hate that color—every time I use it, I think of death.

Why did she do it? I suppose I’ll never know. I used to think it was suicide. Now I think it was attempted murder. Because I was in the car too, wasn’t I? Sometimes I think I was the intended victim—it was me she was trying to kill, not herself. But that’s crazy. Why would she want to kill me?

Tears collected in my eyes as I walked up the hill. I wasn’t crying for my mother—or myself—or even that poor homeless man. I was crying for all of us. There’s so much pain everywhere, and we just close our eyes to it. The truth is we’re all scared. We’re terrified of each other. I’m terrified of myself—and of my mother in me. Is her madness in my blood? Is it? Am I going to—

No. Stop. Stop—

I’m not writing about that. I’m not.


Last night Gabriel and I went out for dinner. We usually do on Fridays. “Date night” he calls it, in a silly American accent.

Gabriel always downplays his feelings and makes fun of anything he considers “soppy.” He likes to think of himself as cynical and unsentimental. But the truth is he’s a deeply romantic man—in his heart if not his speech. Actions speak louder than words, don’t they? And Gabriel’s actions make me feel totally loved.

“Where do you want to go?” I asked.

“Three guesses.”


“Got it in one.”

Augusto’s is our local Italian restaurant, just down the road. It’s nothing special, but it’s our home from home, and we’ve spent many happy evenings there. We went around eight o’clock. The air-conditioning wasn’t working, so we sat by the open window in the hot, still, humid air and drank chilled dry white wine. I felt quite drunk by the end, and we laughed a lot, at nothing, really. We kissed outside the restaurant and had sex when we came home.

Thankfully, Gabriel has come around to the portable fan, at least when we’re in bed. I positioned it in front of us, and we lay in the cool breeze, wrapped in each other’s arms. He stroked my hair and kissed me. “I love you,” he whispered. I didn’t say anything; I didn’t need to. He knows how I feel.

But I ruined the mood, stupidly, clumsily—by asking if he would sit for me.

“I want to paint you,” I said.

“Again? You already did.”

“That was four years ago. I want to paint you again.”

“Uh-huh.” He didn’t look enthusiastic. “What kind of thing do you have in mind?”

I hesitated—and then said it was for the Jesus picture. Gabriel sat up and gave a kind of strangled laugh.

“Oh, come on, Alicia.”


“I don’t know about that, love. I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“Why do you think? Painting me on the cross? What are people going to say?”

“Since when do you care what people say?”

“I don’t, not about most things, but—I mean, they might think that’s how you see me.”

I laughed. “I don’t think you’re the son of God, if that’s what you mean. It’s just an image—something that happened organically while I was painting. I haven’t consciously thought about it.”

“Well, maybe you should think about it.”

“Why? It’s not a comment on you, or our marriage.”

“Then what is it?”

“How should I know?”

Gabriel laughed at this and rolled his eyes. “All right. Fuck it. If you want. We can try. I suppose you know what you’re doing.”

That doesn’t sound like much of an endorsement. But I know Gabriel believes in me and my talent—I’d never be a painter if it weren’t for him. If he hadn’t needled and encouraged and bullied me, I’d never have kept going during those first few dead years after college, when I was painting walls with Jean-Felix. Before I met Gabriel, I lost my way, somehow—I lost myself. I don’t miss those druggy partiers who passed for friends during my twenties. I only ever saw them at night—they vanished at dawn, like vampires fleeing the light. When I met Gabriel, they faded away into nothing, and I didn’t even notice. I didn’t need them anymore; I didn’t need anyone now I had him. He saved me—like Jesus. Maybe that’s what the painting is about. Gabriel is my whole world—and has been since the day we met. I’ll love him no matter what he does, or what happens—no matter how much he upsets me—no matter how untidy or messy he is—how thoughtless, how selfish. I’ll take him just as he is.

Until death do us part.


Today Gabriel came and sat for me in the studio.

“I’m not doing this for days again,” he said. “How long are we talking about?”

“It’s going take more than one session to get it right.”

“Is this just a ploy to spend more time together? If so, how about we skip the preamble and go to bed?”

I laughed. “Maybe afterwards. If you’re good and don’t fidget too much.”

I positioned him standing in front of the fan. His hair blew in the breeze.

“How should I look?” He struck a pose.

“Not like that. Just be yourself.”

“Don’t you want me to adopt an anguished expression?”

“I’m not sure Jesus was anguished. I don’t see him like that. Don’t pull any faces—just stand there. And don’t move.”

“You’re the boss.”

He stood for about twenty minutes. Then he broke the pose, saying he was tired.

“Sit down, then. But don’t talk. I’m working on the face.”

Gabriel sat on a chair and kept quiet while I worked. I enjoyed painting his face. It’s a good face. A strong jaw, high cheekbones, elegant nose. Sitting there with the spotlight on him, he looked like a Greek statue. A hero of some kind.

But something was wrong. I don’t know what—maybe I was pushing too hard. I just couldn’t get the shape of his eyes right, nor the color. The first thing I ever noticed about Gabriel was the sparkle in his eyes—like a tiny diamond in each iris. But now for some reason I couldn’t catch it. Maybe I’m just not skilled enough—or maybe Gabriel has something extra that can’t be captured in paint. The eyes remained dead, lifeless. I could feel myself getting annoyed.

“Fuck,” I said. “It’s not going well.”

“Time for a break?”

“Yeah. Time for a break.”

“Shall we have sex?”

That made me laugh. “Okay.”

Gabriel jumped up, took hold of me, and kissed me. We made love in the studio, there on the floor.

The whole time, I kept glancing at the lifeless eyes in Gabriel’s portrait. They were staring at me, burning into me. I had to turn away.

But I could still feel them watching.


I WENT TO FIND DIOMEDES to report on my meeting with Alicia. He was in his office, sorting through piles of sheet music.

“Well”—he didn’t look up—“how did it go?”

“It didn’t, really.”

Diomedes gave me a quizzical glance.

I hesitated. “If I’m going to get anywhere with her, I need Alicia to be able to think, and feel.”

“Absolutely. And your concern is…?”

“It’s impossible to get through to someone when they’re so heavily medicated. It’s like she’s six feet underwater.”

Diomedes frowned. “I wouldn’t go that far. I’m not familiar with the exact dose she’s on—”

“I checked with Yuri. Sixteen milligrams of risperidone. A horse’s dose.”

Diomedes raised an eyebrow. “That’s certainly quite high, yes. It could probably be reduced. You know, Christian is the head of Alicia’s care team. You should talk to him about it.”

“I think it’ll sound better coming from you.”

“Hmm.” Diomedes gave me a doubtful look. “You and Christian knew each other before, didn’t you? At Broadmoor?”

“Very slightly.”

Diomedes didn’t respond immediately. He reached over to a little dish of sugared almonds on his desk and offered me one.

I shook my head.

He popped an almond in his mouth and crunched it, watching me as he chewed. “Tell me, is everything friendly between you and Christian?”

“That’s an odd question. Why do you ask?”

“Because I’m picking up on some hostility.”

“Not on my part.”

“But on his?”

“You’ll have to ask him. I have no problem with Christian.”

“Hmm. Perhaps I’m imagining it. But I’m sensing something.… Keep an eye on it. Any aggression or competitiveness interferes with the work. You two need to work with each other, not against each other.”

“I’m aware of that.”

“Well, Christian needs to be included in this discussion. You want Alicia to feel, yes. But remember, with greater feeling comes greater danger.”

“Danger for whom?”

“For Alicia, of course.” Diomedes wagged his finger at me. “Don’t forget she was highly suicidal when we first brought her here. She made numerous attempts to end her life. And the medication keeps her stable. It keeps her alive. If we lower the dose, there’s every chance she will be overwhelmed by her feelings and be unable to cope. Are you prepared to take that risk?”

I took what Diomedes said seriously. But I nodded. “It’s a risk I believe we need to take, Professor. Otherwise we’ll never reach her.”

Diomedes shrugged. “Then I shall talk to Christian on your behalf.”

“Thank you.”

“We’ll see how he reacts. Psychiatrists don’t often respond well to being told how to medicate their patients. Of course, I can overrule him, but I don’t tend to do that—let me broach the subject with him subtly. I’ll tell you what he says.”

“It might be better not to mention me when you talk to him.”

“I see.” Diomedes smiled strangely. “Very well, I won’t.”

He pulled out a little box from his desk, sliding off the cover to reveal a row of cigars. He offered me one. I shook my head.

“You don’t smoke?” He seemed surprised. “You look like a smoker to me.”

“No, no. Only the occasional cigarette—just now and then … I’m trying to quit.”

“Good, good for you.” He opened the window. “You know that joke, about why you can’t be a therapist and smoke? Because it means you’re still fucked-up.” He laughed and popped one of the cigars into his mouth. “I think we’re all a bit crazy in this place. You know that sign they used to have in offices? ‘You don’t need to be mad to work here, but it helps’?”

Diomedes laughed again. He lit the cigar and puffed on it, blowing the smoke outside. I watched him enviously.


AFTER LUNCH I PROWLED THE CORRIDORS, looking for an exit. I was intending to sneak outside and have a cigarette, but I was discovered by Indira by the fire escape. She assumed I was lost.

“Don’t worry, Theo,” she said, taking my arm. “It took me months to get my bearings around here. Like a maze with no way out. I still get lost sometimes and I’ve been here ten years.” She laughed. Before I could object, she was guiding me upstairs for a cup of tea in the “goldfish bowl.”

“I’ll put the kettle on. Bloody miserable weather, isn’t it? I wish it would just snow and get it over with.… Snow is a very powerful imaginative symbol, don’t you think? Wipes everything clean. Have you noticed how the patients keep talking about it? Look out for it. It’s interesting.”

To my surprise, she reached into her bag and pulled out a thick slice of cake wrapped in cling film. She thrust it into my hand. “Take it. Walnut cake. I made it last night. For you.”

“Oh, thank you, I—”

“I know it’s unorthodox, but I always get better results with difficult patients if I give them a slice of cake in the session.”

I laughed. “I bet you do. Am I a difficult patient?”

Indira laughed. “No, although I find it works just as well on difficult members of staff too—which you’re not either, by the way. A little bit of sugar is a great mood enhancer. I used to make cakes for the canteen, but then Stephanie made such a fuss, all this health-and-safety nonsense about food being brought in from the outside. You’d think I was smuggling in a file. But I still bake a little on the sly. My rebellion against the dictator state. Try it.”

This was not a question but a command. I took a bite. It was good. Chewy, nutty, sweet. My mouth was full, so I covered it with my hand as I spoke.

“I think this will definitely put your patients in a good mood.”

Indira laughed and looked pleased. I realized why I liked her—she radiated a kind of maternal calm. She reminded me of my old therapist, Ruth. It was hard to imagine her ruffled, or upset.

I glanced around the room as she made the tea. The nurses’ station is always the hub of a psychiatric unit, its heart: staff flow to and from it, and it is where the ward is run from day to day; at least where all the practical decisions are made. The goldfish bowl was the nurses’ nickname for the station, as its walls were made of reinforced glass—meaning staff could keep an eye on the patients in the recreation room, in theory at least. In practice, the patients hovered restlessly outside, staring in, watching us, so we were the ones under constant observation. The small space did not have enough chairs, and the ones that were there were generally occupied by nurses typing up notes. So you mostly stood in the middle of the room or leaned awkwardly against a desk, which gave the space a crowded feel, no matter how many people were in it.

“Here you are, love.” Indira handed me a mug of tea.


Christian ambled in and nodded at me. He smelled strongly of the peppermint gum he was always chewing. I remembered he used to smoke heavily when we were at Broadmoor together; it was one of the few things we had in common. Since then Christian had quit, got married, and had a baby daughter. I wondered what kind of father he made. He didn’t strike me as particularly compassionate.

He gave me a cold smile. “Funny seeing you again like this, Theo.”

“Small world.”

“In mental health terms, it is—yes.” Christian said this as if to imply he might be found in other, larger worlds. I tried to imagine what they might be. I could only imagine him in the gym or in a scrum on the rugby field.

Christian stared at me for a few seconds. I’d forgotten his habit of pausing, often lengthily, making you wait while he considered his response. It irritated me here just as much as it had done at Broadmoor.

“You’re joining the team at rather an unfortunate moment,” he said eventually. “The sword of Damocles is hanging over the Grove.”

“You think it’s as bad as that?”

“It’s only a matter of time. The Trust is bound to shut us down sooner or later. So the question is, what are you doing here?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, rats desert a sinking ship. They don’t clamber on board.”

I was startled by Christian’s undisguised aggression. I decided not to rise to the bait. I shrugged. “Possibly. But I’m not a rat.”

Before Christian could reply, a massive thud made us jump. Elif was on the other side of the glass, hammering at it with her fists. Her face was pressed up against it, squashing her nose, distorting her features, making her almost monstrous.

“I won’t take this shit no more. I hate this—these fucking pills, man—”

Christian opened a small hatch in the glass and spoke through it. “Now is not the time to discuss this,