This book hurt my head and my heart and turned my stomach - I guess that`s an appropriate response to a tale of the evil that lurks in the heart of men (and women, but here mostly men). Headhunter
is an inventive and possibly even brilliant re-telling of Heart of Darkness
, set in Toronto at the Parkin Institute -- a thinly-veiled Clarke Institute of Psychiatry -- with Kurtz (yes, really) re-cast as the Parkin`s head psychiatrist, who has gone wayyyyyy up the river and over the edge into madness himself if not pure evil, and Marlow (yup) his alter ego, a fellow psychiatrist who functions as rational observer-saviour-hero. Look for all the dark-light symbolism that surrounds these two; perhaps a bit heavy-handed, but no less effective for it.
The dystopian city and society Findley portrays - from its government cover-up and mass-scale extermination of starlings claimed to be causing the plague afflicting the city; to its raw portrayal of child pornography, incest and paedophilia (and those who are drawn to it, and why; we get a real insider`s look here) set amid the moneyed-artsy class of Toronto - has left me feeling unsettled and slightly nauseated.
Findley is a fabulous writer, and probably not read as widely as he should be. His books tend to sprawl, and be about everything at once - they have huge scope. This one was in danger of heading off in too many directions, but he`s such a good story-teller, you forgive him what might be some of his excesses.
Lilah is a wonderful, heart-rending and sympathetic character. You just want to take her in your arms and comfort her, tell her everything is going to be alright. You`d be lying, of course, but this book explores THAT as much as anything (and everything) else: that part of the human heart, the lightness, the capacity to love, and to have hope set against the opposite: the dark corruption, manipulation and brutality.
Even through the horror (the horror), it kept me reading - fascinated by the characters, swept up in the breadth of Findley`s vision and the sheer inventiveness of it - but also, unable to look away, even though so much of this was truly appalling to think about.
Equal parts dystopian social commentary, murder mystery and ghost story, at its heart (yes, I did just go there), it`s an exploration of the human capacity for evil.
Plus, there`s some snide satire of the obnoxious Rosedale plastic-surgery loving elite (the Torontonians in the crowd will love this - unless you live in Rosedale, I guess), and a great, heroic dog named Grendel.
Lots to love.