QUICKSAND is a multi layered science fiction novel that is a masterpiece of characterization.
Dr. Paul Fidler, is the psychiatric registrar at Chent, a hospital for mental disorders in England. Years earlier he himself had a breakdown. Sometimes the unrealized possibilities of his life become so real he mistakes them for memories; his failures seem all too real.
At the present he’s trying to prevent the collapse of his marriage to Iris, a woman who is cold, controlling and doesn’t want children. She’s staying with friends and decides to prolong her visit so Paul stops at a pub after work rather than go home to an empty house.
A salesman enters in an agitated state. He has a head wound, one eye is swollen shut and his arm appears to be broken. The man claims he was attacked by a nude woman. Thinking it might be one of his badly disturbed or violent patients who have escaped from the hospital, Paul goes out to look for her.
He finds the woman, she’s not a patient, but to his surprise she’s barely five feet tall and no more than eighty pounds. Obviously the salesman must have provoked the attack. If it was an attempted rape the woman may have gotten a burst of abnormal strength to fight him off.
The attractive young woman speaks no English, behaves very strangely and has some unique abilities. Paul brings her back to the hospital and for want of a name they call her Urchin. As he becomes more and more obsessed with the girl his life changes and he questions his own sanity. But is Urchin a foreigner, an alien or a product of Paul’s psyche?
The author, John Brunner, was a popular science fiction writer who died in 1995. His books seem to be more concerned with people than technology and in Quicksand he’s created a number of very complex characters. In the case of the protagonist he addresses the nature of reality and his view of the world against a convincing backdrop of mental illness. The story is somewhat slow moving, but Brunner sets the scene perfectly and makes his setting very believable.
I was thoroughly engrossed in the book and will be looking for more of Brunner’s works. But be forewarned this is not a feel good book so be prepared for a depressive ending that you won’t see coming.
QUICKSAND is available used online
Publisher: Doubleday; Book Club editon (1967)