Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill #BookReview #BlogTour

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?

It's my pleasure to be one of the bloggers opening the blog tour for Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill today, and I'd like to wish Michael a very happy UK Publication Day. Many thanks to No Exit Press and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my advance copy of the novel.
Bellevue Square is undoubtedly one of those books that will continue to play on my mind for some time to come. The first part of the book suggests it is going to be a psychological thriller after Jean Mason learns she may have a doppelganger. She owns a bookstore in a regenerated part of Toronto and has her regular customers, including Mr Ronan whose first name begins with G - they have a running joke about what the G stands for  - and it comes as a shock when he comes into the store one day saying he saw her in the market fifteen minutes earlier, dressed differently and with shorter hair, then reacts aggressively when Jean denies it was her. One strange encounter can be excused but then a woman called Katerina enters the bookstore and accuses Jean of being a Llorona. Katerina is originally from Guatemala but now works in a Latin American food court. Jean decides to visit her to satisfy her curiosity but the friendship that develops between them has catastrophic results.
Jean appears to be a normal working mother at first; her husband, Ian appears to be somewhat imperious at times but his reasons become clearer as  her obsession grows and it becomes apparent that she has suffered from mental health issues in the past. She takes to spending hours in Bellevue Square, hoping for a sighting of her doppelganger, Ingrid. She is initially there as an observer and is fascinated by what she describes as this clearing house for humanity but after a while she begins to interact and strikes up friendships with the misfits and outcasts who spend their days in the park. Though these are people on the outskirts of society, Michael Redhill has humanised them in Bellevue Square; they may be delusional, addicts or scam artists but they each have their stories and Jean's encounters with them are compelling, regardless as to whether they help her solve her own mystery.
Although she manages to maintain a semblance of normality for a while - the scenes with her two sons, Nick and Reid are often wryly amusing and will be only too familiar to anybody who has experienced sibling relationships - the cracks begin to appear as she can't resist the compulsion to go to Bellevue Square, sure as she is that she must discover who Ingrid really is eventually. It's hard to say much here without giving the plot away too much but as the book progresses the story become less about the mystery of Jean's doppelganger and instead shifts into a dark and irresistible study into mental health, consciousness and the question of self. The latter part of the novel is an unsettling, bewildering read; by now it's obvious that Jean is an unreliable narrator but just where the truth lies becomes ever harder to ascertain.
Those looking for a straightforward thriller may find Bellevue Square is not to their taste. It's undoubtedly unsettling and asks more questions than it answers. The combination of medical parlance, folkloric elements and hints of the supernatural mean that the complex narrative becomes as convoluted as the minds of some of the characters. Readers are left to ponder the truth but there is no easy resolution here. Bellevue Square's vibrant characters, the astute descriptions of the thoughts of the inner self and the richness of the market scenes mean that the book is an absolute pleasure to read, though the themes explored are provocative and disquieting. Bellevue Square is a beautifully crafted novel which kept me awake long after I'd finished it as the thoughts it induced continued to swirl in my head. It's too disconcerting to be an easy read but it is an impressive and thoroughly engaging one.

Bellevue Square is published by No Exit Press and can be purchased here. Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author
MICHAEL REDHILL is the author of eight novels including Consolation, longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and Martin Sloane, a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, Canada’s most prestigious book award. He’s written a novel for young adults, four collections of poetry and two plays, including the internationally celebrated Goodness. He also writes a series of crime novels under the name Inger Ash Wolfe, one of which, The Calling, was made into a feature film starring Susan Sarandon. Bellevue Square won the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize. Michael lives in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter.




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