Book Review: Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill @noexitpress

Book info

Published: August 2018

Publisher: No Exit Press

Book blurb

Bellevue Square coverWhat happens when the sense you’ve made of things stops making sense?

‘Unsettling and bewildering. I was totally hooked’ – Sam Baker, The Pool

Winner of the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize

Jean Mason has a doppelganger.

She’s never seen her, but others* swear they have.

*others | noun. A peculiar collection of drug addicts, scam artists, philanthropists, philosophers and vagrants – the regulars of Bellevue Square.

Jean lives in downtown Toronto with her husband and two kids. The proud owner of a thriving bookstore, she doesn’t rattle easily – not like she used to. But after two of her customers insist they’ve seen her double, Jean decides to investigate. Curiosity grows to obsession and soon Jean’s concerns shift from the identity of the woman, to her very own.

Funny, dark and surprising, Bellevue Square takes readers down the existentialist rabbit hole and asks the question: what happens when the sense you’ve made of things stops making sense?

‘Highly original, beautiful and unsettling. Michael Redhill takes a fascinating premise and turns it into something utterly mesmerising. I adored it’ – Chris Whitaker, author of Tall Oaks and All the Wicked Girls

My thoughts

leaving the reader to ponder just what the heck is going on.

Jean’s character is not quite as fleshed out as I’d have liked, perhaps, and dare I say she came across as a little masculine. Though that could well be me knowing that the author is male.

I enjoyed the humour scattered throughout, and adored the confrontation between Jean and her double’s daughter – so playful and yet a little disturbing too. Later in the book there’s a really sinister scene in which Jean plays an old home movie she’s discovered – but I won’t give anything away. The tension ramps up nicely towards the end, with yet more strangeness and what the hell just happened moments.

Bellevue Square is beautifully strange, in fact I found it at times almost as weird as Haruki Murakami’s novels but without the long digressions – it has a poet’s lightness of touch and enjoyment of language. (Redhill is a poet as well as a playwright and novelist.)

Whatever kind of novel this is, it’s a cracking good read with the mind-jolting twists of a psychological thriller and the slow-gathering unease of a ghost story. (Bellevue Square is part one of a tryptic, ‘Modern Ghosts’.) There’s a disturbing, slightly claustrophobic feel as one is drawn into the none-too-straightforward and increasingly troubled world of  the first-person narrator.

Jean is a middle-aged female Torontonian with two young boys and an ex-police chief husband, who one day is gobsmacked to learn that someone who looks exactly like her (except for hair length) is hanging out a few blocks away, in a place called Bellevue Square. (Real up till 2017 when it was demolished, according to the author’s note.) She sets off on a quest to find and confront her mysterious double. As Jean struggles to reconcile two mutually irreconcilable versions of reality, the reader’s mind grapples along with her to make sense of the bizarre place we’ve found ourselves in.

Redhill has a wonderful eye for detail (I loved the descriptions of snow, for example). The settings come to life, especially Bellevue Square and the hotchpotch of characters inhabiting it – notably mental patients, the dispossessed and those on the edge of ‘normal’ life, who Jean gets to know while she searches for her double.

The concepts lurking in the novel challenged my brain at times – and I have a degree in physics! Alternate realities, particle accelerator experiments gone wrong, simulated beings, artificial intelligence, doppelgangers, zombie mind takeovers, intriguing neurological conditions… (I spent a while reading up the one in question on wiki.) Just what is ‘reality’, who is sane and who is mentally ill? Redhill looks at the fallibility of memories and the slipperiness of our constructed identities, asking how we can ever know who we are given the fragility of our minds and our imperfect knowledge of the world. However, he gets on with the story without slowing down the pace unduly,

My husband nabbed my copy after I’d finished – I’d given him plenty of updates as I was reading – I’m looking forward to seeing what he made of it!

I received a copy of this book from the publisher and was only too happy to review it.


2 thoughts on “Book Review: Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill @noexitpress

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