Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Bellevue Square - Michael Redhill

Bellevue Square is the latest book from Michael Redhill. It's also a Scotiabank Giller Prize Finalist.

The premise? A customer in Jean Mason's bookstore tells her that she has a double, a doppelganger. Jean is intrigued and heads to Bellevue Square (a park) to see if she too can see this woman.

I was intrigued by the idea of the double. And my interest was further piqued by this early line..."I put the phone away and at that exact moment a woman I would later be accused of murdering walked into my shop."

And with those two pieces, I thought I was in for a mystery. And I was - but the book certainly did not unfold in any way I could have predicted. There is so much more to Jean's tale. The facade that Jean presents to the world - and her family - has cracks in it.

Redhill's writing in Bellevue Square is fiendishly clever. The reader must pay close attention as Jean's world turns on a dime. What is truth? What is fiction? There is no way to tell as we see everything from Jean's viewpoint - and she is most definitely an unreliable narrator. Her mind is frightening, yet brilliant.

What I really enjoyed were the conversations and interactions between Jean and those that frequent Bellevue Square. While somewhat nonsensical at times, these interactions seem the closest to 'real' for Jean, often overshadowing the relationship with her husband and children.

Take your time reading Bellevue Square. There is much to consider as Jean seeks answers. There are hints and references dropped along the way that had me forming in my mind what I thought was 'the answer.' And I was wrong. I think I hooted out loud when I realized what was happening in the final chapters. I don't want to say anymore and spoil the book, but overlapping is a word I'll throw out there. I am still not sure if I completely 'got' everything that Redhill has woven into his book, as some of it is a bit confusing. In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Redhill mentions that Bellevue Square explores loss and "is about the surprising (and disturbing) plasticity of the self and what happens when the sense you've made of things stops making sense."

Bellevue Square is set in the streets and area around Kensington Market in Toronto. Redhill has lived and worked in the Toronto area for many years and his descriptions benefit from his first hand observations. References to Canadiana - Dominion grocery stores, Tim Hortons, Shopper's Drug Mart will be familiar to Canuck readers.

Inger Ash Wolfe is Redhill's nom de plume. I was delighted to find references to the Hazel Micallef books. And it was only on reading the acknowledgements that I discovered Bellevue Square is "part one of a Modern Ghost, a triptych." I will pick up the next book, as I truly want to see where and what could transpire next.

Thought provoking and fiendishly clever. Read an excerpt of Bellevue Square.

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