Summary: Part 2, Chapters 20-26

Chapter 20

Jean-Felix uncovers three paintings wrapped in blankets. The first is a photorealistic painting of a woman who has died in a car accident. She sits at the wheel, visibly dead, and above her, a large bird with yellow wings soars up to the heavens. Theo believes that the woman represents Alicia’s mother, who died in an accident, and interprets the bird as her soul. The second painting, which Alicia described in her previous diary entries, is of Gabriel, crucified in the manner of Jesus Christ. A rifle is strapped to his torso, and his eyes stare at the viewer reproachfully. The third painting is of Alicia’s aunt Lydia. It depicts her as a monstrously large person whose flesh spills out over the sides of the bed upon which she lies, filling the room. Theo asks to see the Alcestis painting again, and Jean-Felix obliges. Theo notices a small bowl of fruit filled with maggots, something that he didn’t catch when he first saw the painting. Jean-Felix recommends that Theo read Alcestis, and that he provides Alicia with painting tools so that she might “speak” through her art.  

Chapter 21 

Theo buys a copy of Alcestis and summarizes its plot. In the play, a man named Admetus is condemned to death by the Fates, figures from Greek mythology, though the god Apollo is able to negotiate a loophole: if Admetus can convince someone to die in his place, he will go free. After his parents refuse, his wife, Alcestis, volunteers. Admetus accepts her sacrifice and she is sent to Hades, the underworld of Greek myth. However, the hero Heracles rescues Alcestis from Hades. Admetus cries in joy at the return of his wife, but Alcestis does not speak. Theo believes that this story must reveal something important about Alicia’s life.  

Chapter 22 

In Alicia’s diary, she comments upon the sweltering summer heat. Her cousin, Paul, calls her and notes that they haven’t spoken in months, which makes Alicia feel guilty, as she doesn’t like to return to the home of Paul and Lydia. He requests help from Alicia but doesn’t explain himself. When she notes that she is too busy to return to Cambridge, where they both grew up, Paul offers to travel to London. When he arrives at her home, she notices that he is looks unwell and has lost weight. She pours him a glass of whiskey and he confesses to her that he has lost a lot of money gambling and is in dire straits. Alicia balks when he says that he needs £20,000, but she relents and writes him a check for £2,000. Later, Gabriel is annoyed that she let Paul borrow the money.

In her next entry, Alicia works on the background of the painting that depicts Gabriel as Jesus. Jean-Felix shows up unannounced and talks while she paints, irritating her. She asks him to leave so that she can focus on her work, and to call in the future if he intends to visit. He is stung, but Alicia is done tiptoeing around his feelings and adds that she intends to sever their professional relationship by finding a new gallery to represent her work after their upcoming show. Jean-Felix blames Gabriel for turning her against him, but Alicia denies this and claims that they can still be friends. Jean-Felix reveals that he has purchased tickets for the two of them to attend a play, Alcestis, and makes Alicia promise that she’ll go with him. That night, Gabriel says that Alicia shouldn’t go to the theater with Jean-Felix, but she feels that she owes him this after their years of friendship.  

Chapter 23 

Theo visits Diomedes in his office and finds him playing the harp. After chatting about music, Theo tells Diomedes that he is having a difficult time understanding Alcestis, particularly Alcestis’ silence at the end of the play. Theo first hypothesizes that she is too happy to speak, as she has been miraculously rescued from the underworld, but Diomedes urges him to think more deeply about the play. In allowing Alcestis to die for him, Diomedes notes, Admetus has betrayed his wife. Diomedes asks Theo if he has ever been betrayed, and Theo has a strong emotional reaction to this question. Reflecting on his own response to being betrayed by Kathy, Theo realizes that Alcestis must be furious at Admetus for allowing her to sacrifice herself on his behalf. Attempting to connect the plot of the play to Alicia’s life, Theo notes that Alicia has never died, unlike Alcestis, but Diomedes suggests that something killed Alicia in a psychological rather than physical sense. Theo agrees, concluding that something or someone must have killed her spirit and that she must be brought “back to life” for her treatment to be effective. Remembering Jean-Felix’s advice, Theo asks for permission to treat Alicia with art therapy. Diomedes notes that Alicia did not respond to previous attempts by Rowena Hart, the art therapist at The Grove, to engage her in group art sessions. Nevertheless, he gives Theo permission on the condition that he can gain Rowena’s approval.  

Chapter 24 

Though Diomedes feels that Rowena is unlikely to approve of Theo’s request, she quickly gives him her blessing. However, she notes that Alicia is highly unlikely to respond to art therapy, as she refused to participate in the past. Theo feels that Rowena is not a very skilled therapist, though he doesn’t say this. Instead, he suggests that Alicia might be more likely to paint if she has some private space in which to work. Rowena’s dismissive response suggests to Theo that she is jealous of Alicia’s artistic talent. Still, Rowena is happy to allow Theo to take Alicia off her hands.  

Chapter 25 

In a therapy session with Alicia, Theo recounts his visit to the art gallery. He mentions her painting of Lydia and thinks that Alicia looks subtly amused. However, her mood changes when he mentions her painting of the car accident. Theo asks her why she didn’t portray herself in the car, given that she was a passenger in the accident that killed her mother, and Alicia gives him a challenging look. He moves to a new topic: Alcestis. When he asks Alicia why Alcestis doesn’t speak at the end of the play, she closes her eyes, rejecting his attempt to reach out to her. However, when Theo offers to give her space and resources to paint, she smiles. Theo feels encouraged by this unusually direct expression from Alicia.  

Chapter 26 

Theo sits in the cafeteria, where he sees Elif antagonizing other patients. He thinks about sitting with Alicia, who is by herself, but is discouraged when she doesn’t appear to acknowledge him. To his surprise, Christian sits by him, and warns Theo to be careful not to allow Alicia to seduce him. Irritated, Theo leaves, but later he reflects that there might be some truth to Christian’s anxiety. He calls Jean-Felix, who has Alicia’s art supplies but is hesitant to bring them to The Grove himself. Theo offers to pick them up from the studio, and notes that Jean-Felix seems wary of encountering Alicia.  


Alicia’s paintings provoke strong reactions in viewers, though their cryptic nature invites varying interpretations. Like Rorschach tests, they invite the viewer to comment on their own frame of mind. Jean-Felix and Theo both comment on her art, making the differences between them clear. When the two discuss Alicia’s painting of the car crash that killed her mother, Jean-Felix focuses on the positive elements, such as the warm colors and the soul rising to heaven, interpreting the work as joyous. The more somber Theo, however, finds the painting merely unsettling. Likewise, Jean-Felix considers Alicia’s painting of Gabriel on the cross as evidence that she was already thinking about killing him in the months prior to his murder. Theo, however, focuses on the reproachful eyes that gaze critically at the viewer. Where Theo considers the painting of Lydia cruel, Jean-Felix describes it as lovely. Theo’s interpretations tend to highlight his own priorities, anxieties, and his deep feelings of guilt. Just as Theo felt annoyed when Yuri claimed to know Alicia better than anyone, he responds with irritation to Jean-Felix’s claims upon Alicia, acknowledging the dislike and even repulsion that the gallery owner inspires in him. Jean-Felix is a self-absorbed and somewhat shallow character, and Theo and Alicia reach the same conclusion: that he cares more about her art than he does about Alicia as a person. Still, Theo’s irritation stems just as much from his own growing feeling of possessiveness over Alicia. He is quickly annoyed by any suggestion that others know Alicia better than he does.  

The Silent Patient is deeply interested in art, and the different ways in which people interpret art. Much like Alicia’s paintings, Alcestis is a complex work that defies any easy interpretation, and yet making sense of the ancient Greek tragedy is central to understanding the mystery surrounding Gabriel’s murder. Theo has a breakthrough when he reads the play and learns that its ending features a woman who either cannot or will not speak. Theo quickly connects this to Alicia’s own refusal to speak, though he finds the silence of Alcestis at the end of the play just as puzzling as Alicia’s own. The astute Diomedes pushes Theo to place himself in Alcestis’ shoes. Although her return from the dead marks a happy ending, Theo realizes that Alcestis must now return to a husband who was willing to trade her life for his own. Alcestis, he concludes, must have been furious with Admetus, perhaps even to the point of homicide. He resolves to uncover the event in Alicia’s life that symbolically “killed” her just as Admetus condemned Alcestis to death.  

Alicia’s own narrating of events directly contradicts many of the statements of her friends and family. Paul Rose claims to Theo that he hadn’t seen Alicia since her father’s funeral. However, Alicia writes that Paul visited her in the month prior to Gabriel’s murder, begging for money and intimating that he was in debt to some dangerous figures. Likewise, Jean-Felix makes no mention of Alicia’s decision to find a new gallery to represent her or, nor the chill in their relationship. He brags about his closeness to Alicia, and yet makes no attempt to visit her at The Grove, appearing reluctant to see her at all. There is a notable gulf between Alicia’s version of events and the statements of her former friends, relatives, and colleagues, deepening the mystery of what occurred on that fateful night.