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Headhunter    by Timothy Findley order for
by Timothy Findley
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2000 (1994)
Hardcover, Softcover
* * *   Reviewed by Sally Selvadurai

Lilah Kemp is quite mad ... or is she? Her world exists as an appendage to the written word; she spent a great deal of her life amongst books, working as a librarian and seems to have descended into a semi-fantasy world inhabited by people she releases from books. Psychiatrists have put a name to Lilah's condition: schizophrenia. However, fiction and fantasy become oddly intertwined. Lilah believes that she has let Kurtz escape from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and begins the search to track him down, all the while waiting for her own Marlow to assist her in destroying him and his pervasive evil.

The odd thing is that Kurtz and Marlow are quite real! Rupert Kurtz is the Director and Psychiatrist-in-Chief of the Parkin Insttute for Psychiatry in Toronto, while Marlow is a newly-hired psychiatrist who moves into the house adjoining Lilah's. Marlow is instantly plunged into the intrigues of the Parkin Institute as his old friend and former school-mate, Austin Purvis, becomes more and more morose. Marlow ends up working from Purvis's notes to try and fathom what drove Purvis over the brink of sanity.

Our sense of morals is constantly assailed as we move from one horror to the next; as we realize the true extent of Kurtz's particular evil, pursued in the name of science. We are left reeling, wondering how society has sunk so low that such atrocities are condoned by those who would be our saviours. Timothy Findley has woven a fine mesh of sanity / insanity, madness / normality; it is up to us to try and unravel the tangle.

'It makes all the difference whether the doctor sees himself as a part of the drama, or cloaks himself in its authority' C.G. Jung.

'The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything but his reason' G.K. Chesterton.

Headhunter is a most fascinating book, with touches of humour amongst the horrors of the reality of mental illness and people's quest for power and control over others. A look into our own soul, perhaps? Well worth reading.

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