Gail Gray's Reviews > Pilgrim

Pilgrim by Timothy Findley
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Mar 11, 12

bookshelves: jungian
Read in February, 2012

Pilgrim by Timothy Findley. What a beguiling tale. Findley has a lot more confidence than I'll ever have. He actually features Jung as one of the main characters! What fun it is, even as it's a lesson in personal hopes, failures, regressions, and ultimate growth. I would love to be in therapy with y Jung even more now, as Findley presents the young psychiatrist as a complex character, at times earthy and peasant like, at others full of compassion and then also as the abstract mystical thinker combined with the sleuth of the mind that we've come to expect from Jung's own biography, Memories, Dreams and Reflections.
And an even more of an uncanny gift in Pilgrim, is the main character, a mute giant, an elegant man both brilliant and refined, who is admitted to the Burghölzli Psychiatric Clinic in Zurich where Jung is just starting out on his career. A mysterious woman, one of the two white ghosts, as Pilgrim's nurses aid in the hospital will describe them, descends upon the Clinic like the wrath and pleading of angels indeed, hauling her ailing friend, a tall man who the male aid sees with wings, into the clinic begging for an audience with Jung. The woman pleads with Jung to heal her friend.
Findley is one of the most elegant authors I've ever read and is the foremost author in Canada. His prose, pebbled with insights, cultural, historical, and art references, augmented by brilliant metaphor and descriptions is so splendidly balanced with action, that the reader is mesmerized. The characters are so finely and intricately developed that one is held in a state of awe as each chapter unfolds, and their dialogue which can run the gamut form poignant to sarcastic all on the same page allows the reader to participate as if they are present, but overwhelmed by all they experience can't yet speak until after a period of debriefing the myriad webs and knots and tangles. Part literary tour de force, part mystery, we are captivated and stumped by this Pilgrim, who must be immortal to have experienced such diverse lives where he comes to know Da Vinci, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and more. He explains these life experiences which reach back over the centuries, not in conversation, but in a diary his friend, Sybil Quartermain shares with Jung, who passes it on to his wife Emma to read and interpret and Jung tries, often unsuccessfully, to deal with his patient, and other patients suffering from dementia praecox, as schizophrenia was called at the time, while at the same time encountering his own inner demons.
There are many beautiful metaphors in Pilgrim, but one, threaded throughout the entire book, illuminates the paradox of a delicate but dangerous bittersweet hope, that of the butterfly, the symbol for the goddess Psyche. For me, in Pilgrim, never has the human psyche been more fully portrayed, explaining the various stages of human spiritual growth and transformation, which Jung knew so well having experienced it in his descent to the subconscious in the days of The Red Book. Especially poignant is the connection the pupa stage, where the caterpillar, while it must discover its true nature in its secret hideout, must helplessly remain without any defense against the cruelty of the predators and even the nature of the world, in order to grow into the being it was meant to be all along. And the next stage, emergence, when the pupa disintegrates all around the new creature, leaving it highly exposed and uncertain, still wet, feeling naked and alone with its hard to understand new skin, if lucky may live long enough to unfurl its wings and become authentic, a stunning aerial creature of much muchness, the closest we can be to angels on earth, and what we were ultimately meant to be, if only we dare.
What a work of intricate art this novel is.
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