‘The Silent Patient’ Is Already Making Noise

The Wall Street Journal
By Caryn James

Alex Michaelides’s debut novel generated buzz ahead of its U.S. release

Three years ago, Alex Michaelides was a screenwriter with two produced films to his credit: one went straight to video, the other has a rare 0% (meaning no positive reviews) on Rotten Tomatoes. “I had decided to give up writing,” he says, but first he decided to take a stab at the novel he had been wanting to write, “a kind of psychological Agatha Christie.”

The result, “The Silent Patient,” is poised to fare differently than his previous projects. Out in the U.S. on Tuesday, it is a thriller about Alicia, a woman who stops speaking after she kills her husband, and the therapist, Theo, obsessed with unlocking her secrets. According to his publisher, its translation rights have already been sold in 43 languages, and Mr. Michaelides is adapting it for film for Plan B, Brad Pitt’s Oscar-winning production company.

The novel, which is set in London, brings together strands of the author’s experience. Mr. Michaelides, 41 years old, lives in London but was born in Cyprus, where he grew up steeped in Greek mythology. Alicia, a painter, names one of her self portraits “Alcestis,” after the heroine who returned from the dead and never spoke again.

“I read the myth when I was about 13 years old, and I’ve been thinking about it for decades,” Mr. Michaelides says. For a time he studied to become a psychotherapist, volunteering in a secure psychiatric unit similar to the place where Theo treats Alicia.

Looking back at his screenwriting days, Mr. Michaelides says, “I hadn’t quite found my medium.” When the movie rights for “The Silent Patient” were being auctioned in Hollywood, he says, “all these producers I had been trying to meet for 10 years, unsuccessfully, were calling me at midnight.”

“The Silent Patient” is the first publication from Celadon Books, a new boutique division of Macmillan whose list ranges from fiction to a memoir by former CIA director John Brennan.Jamie Raab, the division’s publisher and president, says that “The Silent Patient” sets the tone for what Celadon hopes to do: discover new writers and publish books that have commercial potential as well as literary value.

Mr. Michaelides is working on his next novel, part of a two-book deal, that he says will involve “my preoccupations: tragedy, psychology and murder.”

Alex Michaelides
The Silent Patient