Books to Read

Monday, September 22, 2008

I just finished rereading Headhunter, a superb novel by my favorite author Timothy Findley. Unfortunately, Findley passed away shortly after I gave up my only chance to meet him: After attending a reading, I had my favorite Findley book, Famous Last Words, in hand ready to be autographed. But as I watched the 70-something man, who couldn't walk without assistance and looked fragile despite his sturdy stature, wince into his seat at the table, I decided that with perhaps one less book to autograph, he may be able to call it a night that much sooner. He passed away just a few months later. C'est la vie.

As with many other Findley novels, Headhunter lacks a co-called central character and instead provides us with an ensemble cast of intelligent, tragic and humanly flawed characters through which the story is framed. Also, like many Findley stories, themes of themes of isolation, despair, madness and the struggle for personal satisfaction despite outward appearances of success are treated to Findley's lyrically descriptive prose.

The story begins with schizophrenic Lilah Kemp, who believes that she has let the villain Kurtz escape from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Kurtz, she soon discovers, is the same Rupert Kurtz who heads an influential psychiatry research and treatment center. Desperate to return Kurtz to his proper place, Lilah places her hopes in the hands her new neighbor who, coincidentally, is named Marlow and has just begun working with Kurtz. Meanwhile, a deadly epidemic called sturnusemia is killing increasing numbers of people and animals, psychiatrists at Kurtz' center are dying under suspicious circumstances and the city's social elite are embroiled in a secret world of violent depravity.

I can't say much more without giving too much away, but I was struck at how themes of high-level corruption, cover-ups, the questionable practices of pharmaceutical companies and the tendency for the general populace to turn a blind eye to the unpleasant, but obvious truth may perhaps be even more timely than they were when the book was published in 1993.

In my mind, which I admit is highly biased on the subject, Findley is one of the most underrated authors of the 20th century. If you're looking for an action packed, fast-paced, easy to read story, you'll probably be disappointed. But, on the other hand, if you enjoy intelligent, multi layered, lyrical prose rich with literary and historical allusion, Findley's your man. A few of my favorites include the afore mentioned Headhunter and Famous Last Words, along with The Piano Man's Daughter, The Butterfly Plague and Not Wanted on the Voyage. The latter, I should mention, is not likely to be popular among devout Christians, as it is a somewhat controversial retelling of the Noah's Ark story.