I 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.