A first novel that introduces an appealing new voice, and a delightfully k"oky heroine, from England. Unlike her more sophisticated compatriots, Muriel Spark and Beryl Bainbridge--whose wit can be murderous--Bruggen practices a gentler English tradition: the art of whimsy. She has written a disarming love story about an unlikely couple--a recovering schizophrenic and her unorthodox psychiatrist. Fifty-year-old Judith Holmes endures the tedium of her job in a garment factory by looking forward to her Friday appointments at the Out-patient Clinic with Dr. Hector Jones. While other people have options, Judith has ""chaos, crumbs under the skin."" Her 25-year marriage to the mercurial Murphy has gone so stale she's not even jealous of his girlfriend, and her six children are so demanding, she yearns to leave them and live with Hector--""in a small dull house"" where she'd ""blossom like a magnolia tree."" Rumpled, kindly Hector holds hands with her during sessions, even lies down with her on his office bed while pursuing his questions about Cecil and Sarah--Judith's eccentric parents. And just when the novel seems predictable, it's revealed that Judith already lives ""in a small dull house."" Alone. She has invented the husband she calls Murphy; ""her children are projections of her brothers and sisters."" A family reunion in London which she attends (with Hector as escort) enables her to resolve ""her vast confusion,"" and to relinquish her fantasy husband. By sharing the symbolic crumbs of her memories with Hector, the psychiatrist, and the real crumbs on his sofa with Hector, the loving, sensual man, Judith experiences ""what it's like to be a woman""--and, eventually, a wife. Altogether, these ""crumbs under the skin"" act like irritants in an oyster, producing, layer on layer, the pearl of recovery. And a charming tour de force.