Review: The Deep Sea Diver’s Syndrome by Serge Brussolo

translated by Edward Gauvin

Melville House Books

January 19, 2016

220 pages

grab a copy here or or through your local independent bookstore or library


Dredging up ectoplasmic objects from your dreams to sell to art connoisseurs may seem sexy and glamorous, but for David Sarella, it’s grueling work.

Like his mother, David has this strange ability to retrieve…something…from his dreams- something that escapes through his mouth and coalesces into an abstract, tangible object in the real world. Eventually, non dream-divers realize that whenever they draw near to one of these ectoplasms, they suddenly feel fantastic. Their skin clears up, their energy returns, and they act twenty years younger.

Brussolo focuses on David, though, and his difficult life, since dreamers (or “deep sea divers”) must be monitored on their “expeditions”: they receive glucose drips and any medications necessary to keep their vitals steady. Whenever David wakes up from one of his jaunts, he feels exhausted and can barely eat. If a diver doesn’t have round-the-clock monitoring, they can die of starvation or brain trauma.

For a while now, David’s dreams have only been producing small objects that sell for very little. He can’t, for instance, produce anything like the mega dream-object of the great diver Soler Mahus, whose masterpiece takes up the great hall in the Museum of Modern Art. Soler, though, is in bad shape, having dreamed himself into emaciation and senility.

What makes this a tight, fast-paced, surrealistic novel (bet you didn’t expect those three terms in the same sentence!) is Brussolo’s deft management of imagery and metaphor across the two worlds. We first meet David escaping from a dream-level jewel heist, aided by a redhead named Nadia and their getaway driver Jorgo. Later, we learn that as a kid in the real world, David had an uncontrollable desire to steal junk and then throw it away. We’re also told that his favorite books were fast-paced thrillers and crime novels, which color his dreams and give them shape. Thus when David is stealing diamonds from a safe in the dream world, his mind is giving form to the ectoplasms that he is producing in the real world.

Eventually, David has to make a decision- embark on a dangerously deep dive to potentially rescue his career, or die trying.

This is a relatively short book, and I was expecting a crazy ending- something like David realizing that the dream world and the real world were actually reversed, or David bringing up an object that would destroy the symbiotic relationship humans have developed with the ectoplasms. Instead, the story seems to drop off, which is a shame, since 95% of it is fascinating and well-done.

Of course, credit for the skillful and deft translation goes to Edward Gauvin, whose command of French and English is always exquisite. Here are two short Brussolo stories that he translated on Weird Fiction Review: “Funnyway” and “Sun of Sulfur”.

So go read The Deep Sea Diver’s Syndrome (preferably in just a couple of sittings) and let me know your thoughts in the comments.


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