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Bruggen's (Crumbs Under the Skin, Half the Gladness) third novel is an eloquent, but poorly focused, romp through infidelity and mental illness. The whimsy and optimism that were so charming in her earlier books seem shallow here. Psychiatrist Hector Jones and his white-haired wife Judith live a life of apparent marital bliss in suburban England. Judith, Hector's ex-patient (she had been haunted by an imaginary husband named Murphy), enjoys organizing Hector's existence; Hector is smugly comfortable. Enter Hector's new patient, Susannah Redfern, a nail-biting, spiked-haired, 26-year-old schizophrenic. Through Hector's ministrations (and electroshock therapy), Susannah improves. And when Hector and his new patient start an affair, Judith doesn't openly object (she's not the type)--but wakes one morning to find Murphy sleeping again in her bed. Then, suddenly, everyone's troubles are over: Hector and Judith work it all out, and Susannah goes off and finds happiness with a disaffected priest. When, in a spasm of jealousy, Hector comments: ""Well, I don't know. I think possibly they are propping each other up. They have complimentary strengths and weaknesses,"" it's clearly a case of the pot criticizing the kettle. For Bruggen, ""propping each other up"" is what it's all about. An appealingly phrased book, but the subject of mental illness, while sometimes handled insightfully does not mesh with the simplicities of the love-heals-all philosophy that is Bruggen's imperative.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Andre Deutsch--dist. by David & Charles