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Book Reviews   |    
Pilgrim, a Novel
Reviewed by Dorothy Packer-Fletcher, M.F.A.
Psychiatric Services 2001; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.52.8.1115
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by Timothy Findley; New York, HarperCollins, 1999, 486 pages, $14 softcover

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At 4:00 a.m. on April 17, 1912, a London gentleman of means named Pilgrim walks out to his garden and proceeds to hang himself from a maple tree. Pronounced dead by two doctors, it appears as though the well-respected art historian has at last succeeded in ending his suffering. However, the man's predicament soon becomes painfully apparent. Despite repeated attempts to commit suicide, Pilgrim seems literally incapable of dying. Several hours after his heart stops beating, it miraculously begins to beat again.

Desperate to help her tormented friend, the aristocratic Sybil, Lady Quartermaine, brings Pilgrim to the Bürgholzli Psychiatric Clinic in Zurich. They arrive in a swirling snowstorm and are greeted by Dr. Furtwängler, who is assigned to the case. However, after interviewing Lady Quartermaine, Dr. Furtwängler suspects she is not being entirely truthful and decides to consult with the other doctors at the clinic, one of whom is Carl Gustav Jung. Intrigued by Pilgrim's failed suicides, Dr. Jung asks to meet with Furtwängler's patient.

In a deft mixture of fact and fiction, Timothy Findley traces the psychoanalytic journey of Pilgrim, the man who could not die. Mr. Findley draws his reader into a morality tale filled with historical figures, artistic and cultural icons, and a pilgrim determined to end his progress.

Jung believed that in order to treat the mentally ill, one must enter into their imagination. Furthermore, the psychoanalyst must be able to share the patient's beliefs and learn how to speak in the same language in order to gain credibility and trust. Only by entering into Pilgrim's fantasy world could he save this man from himself.

Despite Pilgrim's making another suicide attempt while at the clinic, Jung is determined to take over his case. Turning to Sybil Quartermaine for insight and information, Jung is eventually given Pilgrim's private journals—a unique blend of historical events, times, and places in which Pilgrim describes other lives he is convinced he has lived. Are these writings merely dreams? Are they actual recollections or the delusions of a mentally ill man? Or are they symbolic journeys filled with metaphor and meaning? Is it possible that Pilgrim is indeed an immortal who is weary of finding himself yet again in human form? For Jung, Pilgrim is both man and metaphor, archetype and collective unconscious.

Stymied by the journals and haunted by his own personal demons and disturbing dreams, Jung shares Pilgrim's writings with his wife and researcher, Emma. Emma loves and serves her husband, even as he betrays her trust; after Emma discovers that her husband has been unfaithful to her, she is determined to remain with him and raise their children, but she vows to lead her own life. Nevertheless, she too is drawn into Pilgrim's magical world even as she confronts the reality of her husband's increasingly ritualistic and depressive behaviors.

All of the characters in this novel are locked in their own prisons. Pilgrim can neither truly live nor find a way to die. Jung cannot reach his patient, nor can he conquer his personal demons. Findley's melding of fact and fiction neatly conforms with Jung's own assertion that creativity requires that an individual be willing to play with fantasy. Pilgrim's provocative and imaginative journey is well worth the reader's time and consideration.

Ms. Packer-Fletcher is a freelance writer who resides in Worcester, Massachusetts.




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