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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Deep Sea Diver's Syndrome

Serge Brussolo

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To purchase The Deep Sea Diver's Syndrome

Title: The Deep Sea Diver's Syndrome
Author: Serge Brussolo
Genre: Novel
Written: 1992 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 196 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Deep Sea Diver's Syndrome - US
The Deep Sea Diver's Syndrome - UK
The Deep Sea Diver's Syndrome - Canada
Le syndrome du scaphandrier - Canada
The Deep Sea Diver's Syndrome - India
Le syndrome du scaphandrier - France
  • French title: Le syndrome du scaphandrier
  • Translated by Edward Gauvin

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Our Assessment:

A- : nicely envisioned, well-told

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Magazine littéraire A 5/1992 Philippe Curval
New Statesman . 8/3/2016 Tim Martin
TLS . 9/6/2017 Erik Morse
World Lit. Today A+ 5-8/2016 J.David Osborne

  From the Reviews:
  • "Comment ne pas s'enthousiasmer pour un tel roman où l'invention, les bonheurs d'écriture, les expressions qui font mouche, la création de concepts nouveaux réveillent à tout moment le récit. À tel point que le lecteur, bercé par la prose, secoué par les idées, ne sait plus très bien s'il rêve qu'il lit ou s'il a lu qu'il a rêvé." - Philippe Curval, Magazine littéraire

  • "His book is sometimes silly (...) but it is also totally, unapologetically compelling. What an introduction, then." - Tim Martin, New Statesman

  • "Brussoloís rapid-fire oscillations between pulp philosophy and Ďpataphysical mechanics mine a thoroughly French epistemology." - Erik Morse, Times Literary Supplement

  • "The Deep Sea Diverís Syndrome is the best book Iíve read this year. It is an engagingly written, relentlessly imaginative work of genius, something that will make you believe in the power of books again. (...) (T)his book is like Christopher Nolanís Inception (though the original novel predates this film by more than a decade) as directed by Michel Gondry: a supreme work of imagination, rendered brilliantly." - J. David Osborne, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Deep Sea Diver's Syndrome imagines a world and reality that's veered off slightly from our own -- and, beneath it, another, much stranger not-quite-reality. This is a world where art no longer serves any purpose and the idea of admiring and valuing: "Paint applied to a piece of canvas with a stick topped by animal hair" has been dismissed (as has the great artistic output of all times, as Brussolo amusingly describes the emptying and repurposing of what had been art-museums). Instead, humanity has harnessed -- and built quite an elaborate bureaucracy and infrastructure around -- what amounts to the exploitation of the dreams of a select few.
       Well, not exactly dreams, and not really harnessing -- they're transformed, into baubles and objects and grand masses:

It's not a dream, it's an ectoplasmic product a sleeping medium has materialized from an oneiric image haunting his brain. The dream allowed you to create this object by stimulating your imagination -- that's all.
       'That's all' -- but, of course, that's a rather fanciful notion, and credit to Brussolo for introducing and presenting it so well in the course of his story.
       The novel centers on David Sarella, a medium who is able to 'materialize ectoplasms'. Essentially, he falls asleep and enters into a dream(world), and recovers objects from there which, when he surfaces (wakes) are, in a different form and shape, material objects. Sort of, anyway: oneiric objects, with physical qualities (including a troubling stickiness when they've outlived their usefulness). These have properties that are highly valued, able to affect humans in the vicinity -- hence their replacing art. From just a general good feeling to actual physical well-being -- the strongest objects can ward off even disease -- or just providing the ability to give a good night's sleep, they are understandably much in demand.
       Harvesting is strictly licensed and controlled (though there is a black market), and it's a physically demanding procedure, too, with the medium not conscious for days and thus needing to be hydrated and provided nutrition by an outside helper ("it was suicidal to dive without medical assistance"). David works with Marianne, the licensed caretaker who watches over his 'dives' -- his journeys into dream-land. But David's trips are taking a physical toll on him. It's affecting his work, too: the objects he's retrieving lately haven't been up to snuff.
       The novel opens with David in the middle of a dive, in an alternate world -- a deep sea, where he's on a jewel heist (the diamonds the things of value he retrieves and bring to the surface, even if there the resulting oneiric object takes on a very different form). Things aren't going smoothly, his imagination -- shaping everything around him, after all -- messing with him. When he surfaces, Marianne makes clear that it's time for him to take a break -- but the lure of the deep, of this alternate reality, is too great for him to resist.
       Brussolo immerses us in the alternate-dream-world before he offers any explanation for it, and then neatly fills in the blanks. Surprisingly much of the novel is exposition -- explaining how things work and what they are -- and yet that doesn't bog down the story, as he balances well between showing and telling. Though quite simple in its conception, the idea is also beautifully realized: Brussolo offers a fantasy world where everything is possible, yet grounds it sufficiently in reality, and around David's situation and condition that it functions wholly convincingly. A lot of it is in the details -- and part of it is that even with all the exposition Brussolo doesn't overwhelm with detail, either (as is (too) common in much similar science fiction/fantasy).
       The use of (sea-)diving imagery to describe the (dream-)'diving' process is very well done, and Brussolo's rich (verging on over-rich) writing gets the most out of this. Vivid and evocative, Brussolo pulls readers into these worlds with him. In particular, he brings to life David's struggles -- with and against himself, and with the lure of the deep and what he finds there -- with tremendously gripping power.
       The stylized writing verges on the overindulgent, yet Brussolo (and his fine translator Gauvin) pitch it just right, and even outside the dream-world it works when he writes, for example:
It was easier for him to confront the outside world in the half-light of dawn, when the ink of night, barely faded, still stained the streets and sky.
       In less than 200 pages, The Deep Sea Diver's Syndrome also offers a remarkably full story, creating two fascinating worlds -- the real one, right down to its bureaucracy for handling the oneiric objects (and manhandling them, in the case of their disposal, something they haven't entirely come to grips with), as well as the one in the depths of David's imagination -- and following David as he struggles between them. Finally, Brussolo brings all this together in a beautful conclusion -- an obvious resolution, perhaps, but hard to pull off well, and Brussolo easily does.
       The Deep Sea Diver's Syndrome is a very impressive flight of fantasy.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 January 2016

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The Deep Sea Diver's Syndrome: Reviews: Serge Brussolo: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Serge Brussolo was born in 1951.

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© 2016-2017 the complete review

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