by John Brunner
Reviewed date: 2007 May 14
Rating: 3
221 pages
cover art

Paul Fidler is a psychiatrist at Chent Hospital for mental patients. His career is going nowhere, his marriage is on the rocks, and he's hiding the fact that he used to be a mental patient himself. He is slowly losing his tenuous grip on sanity. Then he finds a new patient.

The patient is Urchin. She was found in the woods, naked, speaking an unrecognizable language. Her identity is unknown, and she has no apparent familiarity with modern inventions like automobiles and telephones. The staff at Chent--where she was brought for lack of a better idea--presume she is suffering from mental anguish and is faking the whole thing. Dr. Fidler immerses himself in her case, drawn not only by the prospect of writing up her condition into a published paper, but also by an attraction to Urchin herself.

Urchin begins to learn English. Fidler finds himself believing her story--that she came from the idyllic land of Llanraw, in another time and universe. The more he gets involved with Urchin, the more his life spirals out of control. His wife leaves him, he makes mistakes on the job and has to lie to keep his job, and his best friend and colleague takes a job at a different hospital.

Eventually things come to a head: Fidler is unable to lie his way out of his latest professional blunder, and it will mean his career, and possibly more than that. So he is faced with a choice: hang on to the real world and face the consequences of his actions, or choose to believe in Urchin and the world of Llanraw.

Quicksand is not Brunner's best novel, but I find it entertaining. Brunner writes well enough to make Fidler a believable character; although I doubt psychiatry is practiced as in Quicksand, it's an interesting portrayal. Fidler's terror at losing his mind is always at the forefront, and his actions are believable--and to him, justifiable, even if the reader (as an outside observer) can see the magnitude of the wrongness of his thinking.

There's no compelling reason to read Quicksand, but it's a perfectly serviceable novel.

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