So. You think you’re special, right? Don’t worry, we’re not judging here. So do I. So does everyone. So does Toronto bookseller Jean Mason who, despite her rational judgement, still sort of suspects that the world revolves around her. That all the people and objects in her life just flicker out like holograms when she leaves them, or are really no more than props in the Truman Show-esque production of which she is the accidental star. Bellevue Square follows Jean as she is forced to reckon with the idea that she might not be all that unique after all, exploring identity, mental health, and community – including, or maybe especially, those at the fringes of it. It is also, as you may have guessed, one of our two books of the month for August. There’s a joke to be made here about a book of doubles being included the first ever time we do a double-feature book(s) of the month, but I’m not the man to make it. Let’s make that a ‘choose-your-own adventure’ situation.
Jean first hears of her doppelganger through other people, as her regular customers and acquaintances begin to insist they have seen Jean just now, somewhere else, only her clothes and hair were different. In the opening chapter, a usually mild-mannered man leaps on her in frustration, attempting to rip off the wig he is convinced she’s wearing. Days later, he turns up dead. The next person to speak to Jean about her double meets a similar fate. Soon, she becomes obsessed, and launches a full-scale investigation which the people who frequent Bellevue Square are only too eager to help with. Author Michael Redhill has called Bellevue Square ‘a doppelganger novel told from the point of view of the doppelganger’, and the book raises questions about who we really are and how we have come to be them.
In 2017, the novel won the $100,000 Scotiabank Giller Prize, one of the most prestigious awards in Canadian literature. In their verdict, the jury wrote: “To borrow a line from Michael Redhill’s beautiful Bellevue Square, “I do subtlety in other areas of my life.” So let’s look past the complex literary wonders of this book, the doppelgangers and bifurcated brains and alternate selves, the explorations of family, community, mental health, and literary life. Let’s stay straightforward, and tell you that beyond the mysterious elements, this novel is warm, and funny, and smart. Let’s celebrate that it is, simply, a pleasure to read.”
Reviewers have been quick to agree with the Giller Prize committee. Here’s a quick rundown of what people have been saying about Bellevue Square:
Mystifying and haunting… as captivating as it is unsettling – Toronto Star
‘Echoes of premises mined by the likes of Philip K. Dick, Kazuo Ishiguro and Stephen King… our admiration of Redhill’s storytelling dexterity burgeons.’ – Globe and Mail
“By turns harrowing and mesmerizing.” – Quill & Quire
Bellevue Square is a captivating psychological thriller in a league entirely of its own. As it turns out, some things really are unique after all.
Bellevue Square is published by No Exit Press on 15 August (9780857302670, p/b, £8.99)