Kristy's Reviews > Pilgrim

Pilgrim by Timothy Findley
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Oct 19, 2011

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bookshelves: canadian-authors
Read from October 19 to 29, 2011

I like Timothy Findley, but he must be the most eclectic author I’ve ever read. I first came across him in highschool with The Wars, a novel that observes soldiers in the First World War and which, frankly, I don’t really remember because I was obligated to read it for a class. I later read Findley’s Not Wanted on the Voyage, which was a bizarre and irreligious take on the events surrounding the biblical Noah and his ark. I didn’t enjoy that one. I did love The Piano Man’s Daughter, a beautiful historical novel of one woman’s “madness” and how it affects her family. And I’ve eventually come round to Findley’s Pilgrim, which is another sort of story altogether.

Pilgrim concerns a mysterious man of the same name who has seemingly lived forever in various different bodies. Pilgrim is weary of his never-ending existence and attempts to commit suicide repeatedly without success. He is brought to the Burgholzli Clinic in Zurich where he is treated by famed psychologist CJ Jung. Jung, of course, believes the ethereal Pilgrim to be ‘mad’ and deals with him accordingly. The fact that Pilgrim, with his butterfly birthmark and strange journals of encounters with people of other times, is not wholly human is clear… though I never did quite understand what, exactly, he was.

But Pilgrim was less about this phenomenal being than it was about the infamous Jung and his own issues. If Findley here sought to vilify Jung, he certainly succeeded – because I came away with a distinct picture of him as, yes, a genius but also a selfish J-E-R-K. Fortunately, I find this era in psychology fascinating… you know, the Freudian notions, straightjackets and all female ailments being attributed to ‘hysterics’. And don’t forget Jung’s own pet theory of the “collective unconscious”, which sees its fictional origin in this book.

So it was interesting to have a glimpse into the life of one of the looming pioneers of this time – and not to mention the other historical characters in the novel – but Pilgrim was still a strange and sometimes exasperating read. After finishing it, I felt like I didn’t really “get” it. Truth be told, I think I need to take a long break from contemporary Canadian authors (I promised myself this years ago after I read Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing (ugh) - but this time I mean it).
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