Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill: Now you see her, now you don’t

Cover imageI first read about Bellevue Square on Naomi’s Consumed by Ink blog where I often find Canadian novels I’d be eager to get my hands on were they to be published in the UK. It went on to win the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize giving it a sporting chance of making an appearance here. Naomi’s review was intriguing, not least because she said she couldn’t say much about the plot and now I know why. It begins with a regular customer telling a bookseller that she must have a twin then proceeds to leads its readers through a maze of discombobulating twists and turns.

When Mr Ronan seizes Jean’s hair, convinced she’s wearing a wig after he’s seen her fifteen minutes ago dressed in an entirely different outfit, she’s both annoyed and intrigued. He’s just come from Bellevue Square, a park visited by patients from the local mental hospital, its fringes populated by artisan cafes and the like. Jean is taken for her doppelgänger by Katarina who knows Ingrid well, telling Jean that she’s often to be found in the Square. Jean decides to stake out the park, spending hours chatting to its denizens – some of whom seem to know Ingrid – neglecting her bookshop and her family but sometimes skyping her sister who has a brain tumour. Then she spots her double, pushing an empty buggy. When Jean finally spills the beans to her husband, he decides it’s time to get help. There’s very much more to this clever, tightly constructed novel than that but I’m wary of ruining it for readers.

You’ll need to keep your wits about you as you read Jean’s narrative. Clues and hints as to what might be happening are quietly slipped in. She’s the quintessentially unreliable narrator – things are rarely quite what they seem in her accounts of events but somehow she makes them add up. There’s a reveal about half-way through which may not come as a surprise to attentive readers but the puzzle doesn’t stop there. All of this is leavened with a good deal of humour:

I like pretending to be someone else. Although you probably think I’m overdoing it says Ingrid to Jean when they first meet.

There’s so much more that I could say about this utterly engrossing book but I’m keen for readers to explore it for themselves. I gather from the acknowledgements that Bellevue Square is to be followed by two other novels forming a triptych called Modern Ghosts. Fingers firmly crossed that they will be published in the UK too.

If you like the sound of Redhill’s novel, you might like to have your appetite further whetted by Marcie’s review at Buried in Print or Kim’s at Reading Matters.

18 thoughts on “Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill: Now you see her, now you don’t”

    1. It’s a very smart peice of fiction – hard to write about without giving too much of the game away. It’s just been published by No Exit Press. I’m sure they’d send you a review copy.

  1. The idea of a doppelgänger sounds intriguing. I’ve been told I have them in the past but have never staked them out or even bumped into one, which was disappointing. Thanks for putting the spotlight on this – I’m going to check it out.

  2. This was my favourite book on the Giller Prize shortlist last year. It was a really surprising read, starting as one thing and then turning into something else entirely, if that makes sense. Looking forward to the two follow ups in the trilogy.

  3. I have a feeling that the next volume is going to feel completely different. But I still hope it opens in a bookstore. Not Jean’s. The “real” Bellevue Square is no longer under construction; I was sitting it in a couple of weeks ago, marvelling at the changes and feeling grateful to have an ice-cream cone to enjoy on an extremely hot afternoon.

    1. Not to mention that you weren’t seeing yourself in the crowd, I imagine! It’s hard to know how he’s going to follow this one, isn’t it, but I was delighted to find that there will be another two.

      1. LOL That’s so true! (Although evidently there’s a market for that kind of story.) I hope the UK publication is so well received that there is no lag with the second and third volumes so that we can all read it around the same time. On occasion you get one of our authors published earlier than we (I can’t think of the one which I spotted just recently which was published in your corner of the world in the spring and we are getting it only in this fall) but I’m sure that’s little consolation when you’re waiting for a “really good one”.

  4. I’m so glad you liked this, Susan! And than you for linking to my review! I’m really looking forward to the next book, but might have to skim through the first one again beforehand – there’s so much in there to digest. You’ve done a wonderful job describing it!

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