by Timothy Findley

Published by Harper Flamingo Canada

484 pages, 1999

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Wholly Findley!

Reviewed by Monica Stark


What would you think if you met someone who told you they had lived forever? More: if they had evidence on several fronts to back up their claim? This is the dilemma that confronts noted psychiatrist Carl Jung in 1912 when a new patient is brought to the Bürgholzli Clinic in Zürich where Jung is in residence.

Initially not Jung's patient, the brilliant doctor nonetheless engineers things so that "the man who could not die" -- the one-named Pilgrim -- comes under his care. In the course of treating Pilgrim, Jung comes face to face with his own sometimes tenuous hold on sanity: especially when he increasingly finds himself believing his engaging and intelligent patient's claims.

Pilgrim is a work of fiction, though enough of the characters are historical to make this an occasionally uncomfortable work. Unlike a historical novel where aspects of a prominent person's life are fictionalized in order to give us a fuller view of who that person might have been, Pilgrim takes entirely fanciful -- and even fantastical -- turns on the path to its entirely satisfying conclusion. Jung is certainly an interesting character to play with, but the inclusion of his famous mug detracts from the story, which -- on its own -- simply needs no further devices.

Though Jung and Pilgrim hog most of the screen time, other interesting characters add to the rich mix of this latest Findley novel. Emma Jung -- Carl's wife -- is perhaps the most solid, sane and likable character in the book. Despite frequent philandering on the part of the good doctor, she remains firmly in love with him and convinced of his genius and destiny. Nor does this contradictory-seeming behavior weaken the character. Emma is graceful, strong and -- for the most part -- internally peaceful. And, quite often, her insights into Jung's patient's conditions are more accurate than her husband's.

Interestingly, another very strong, even and sane character is Pilgrim's friend, Sybil, the Lady Quartermaine. It is Sybil who has brought Pilgrim to the Bürgholzli Clinic after several suicide attempts.

Lady Quartermaine had shed her overcoat and could now be seen in a lamplit blue, high-waisted gown with a violet-coloured overlay of lace. Her eyes were a mixture of both these colours, though now, her pupils were so enlarged her eyes seemed almost entirely black. She was toying with her gloves, laid out in her lap like pets she might have brought to soothe her. The veils of her wide-brimmed hat had been drawn aside and rested against her hair, giving the appearance of smoke.

In this description, we not only meet the Lady Quartermaine, we also get a quick view of what has made Timothy Findley one of the best-loved and awarded Canadian writers. Findley has received the Governor General's Award, the Edgar Award, the Chalmers Award, the Canadian Author's Association Award three times, he is an Officer of the Order of Canada and a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France. And he writes beautiful, lovingly crafted books that -- no matter what story he chooses to share with us -- are a delight to read.

Despite minor quibbles -- I would have preferred the brilliant psychiatrist and his wife to have been wholly fictional, even if based on the Jungs -- Pilgrim is an important work. Wholly engaging, wholly original. Wholly Findley. | September 1999


MONICA STARK is a Vancouver-based freelance writer and editor.


Read more about Timothy Findley.