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At one point in this novel, a doctor remarks that literature can never give a true picture of mental disease. Others may be inclined to argue the point further with the corollary that mental disease does not respond to treatment-- in a novel. But perhaps a stronger desideratum now is the real lack of interest in the characters and situation here. Robert Drouin, a television personality looking for a story, rather at odds with himself and his wife, goes to visit an old friend- Du Roy- an associate doctor at a mental hospital in Flanders. (The Flemish scenery is appropriately desolate.) Du Roy, something of an adventurer, an actor, even a charlatan, has found his lifework here at Bruges, and he makes the rounds with Robert giving fuller explanations on the patients in particular and psychiatry in general-- its semantics, techniques, imprecise skills and fascination as a ""magnifying glass applied to the mental mechanism of so-called normal people"". None of this is very deep, or very new, except perhaps to Robert who identifies himself with a patient there (an alcoholic-epileptic and the victim of a sorry marriage to a promiscuous wife), finally defines it through a forgotten association with the man during the war, and relates it to his own cowardice.... Murky parallels with the native artist James Ensor spell out the symbolism and illustrate rather than illuminate the points made.

Publisher: Putnam