Michael Redhill’s “Bellevue Square”

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Ron Charles once jokingly used this adage (at least I think it was Charles) to describe Canadian literature.  And it certainly dovetails with my belief that we Americans don’t know CanLit because it is almost impossible to find new Canadian books in the U.S.

So this weekend I checked out the shortlist for Canada’s Scotiabank Giller Prize.  And I picked up a copy of Michael Redhill’s  Bellevue Square, because the narrator, Jean, owns a bookstore.  Yes, that’s all it takes!

The question is, does she own a bookstore?

On the surface, life is going well: Jean’s husband, an ex-cop, made a fortune investing in legalized marijuana companies, so they moved to Toronto and she opened a bookstore.

And her bookstore sounds like a fun place to hang out.

I have a bookshop called Bookshop. I do subtlety in other areas of my life. I’ve been here for two years now, but it’s sped by. I have about twenty regulars, and I’m on a first-name basis with them, but Mr. Ronan insists on calling me Mrs. Mason. His credit card discloses only his first initial, G. I have a running joke: every time I see the initial I take a stab at what it stands for. I run his card and take one guess. We both think it’s funny, but he’s also shy and I think it embarrasses him, which is one of the reasons I do it. I’m trying to bring him out of himself.

Then one day, while she is shelving books, everything changes.   Mr. Ronan, one of her best customers,  insists he saw her at the Kensington market 15 minutes ago, wearing a different outfit and with short hair.   He attacks her, and tries to pull off what he thinks is a long-haired “wig.” Stunned that the hair is real, he says she must have a twin.  (She does not.)  He apologizes, leaves, and never returns.

Shortly thereafter, another woman, Katerina, who works at the Kensington market, mistakes her for her doppelganger.   So Jean takes to hanging out in Bellevue Park, across from the market, so she can catch a glimpse of her double.

And when she finally meets her double, a woman named Ingrid Fox, a mystery writer who writes under the name Inger Ash Wolfe, Ingrid insists that she is the real one, and that Jean is a symptom of the brain tumor that is killing her.

I raced through this Dostoieveskian novel about doubles, by far the fastest-paced book I’ve read this year.  The concept is brilliant, but does it deserve the award? I enjoyed it  enormously, but the style is unassuming–perhaps a little too unassuming.  Do we want verbal fireworks?  Probably.

I recommend it because it’s a great read!

10 thoughts on “Michael Redhill’s “Bellevue Square”

  1. I love that line: I do subtlety in other areas of my life. I would have to read a book by an author who could write that even if it wasn’t about a bookshop. I’m off now to see if it’s available in the U.K.


  2. It just landed in my hands on Saturday, so now I am all set to read it. (I was glad there were no spoilers in your post, as I couldn’t resist reading, now that you are reading all Canadian all the time. Hah.) It does look like it will read very comfortably and I so enjoyed his first book that I am very keen to see if this one strikes my fancy too.


      • That’s a tough one. I have finished reading and am still toying with my post,because I both want to – and do not want to – reveal a little more, but not things which would spoil it, which, as you can imagine, is a thorny thing. In short, I loved it. But, *shakes head wildly* …


        • Such a weird book! well, I prob gave away too little. I don’t usually worry much about spoilers, but this is tricky, because there are so many surprises. I can’t wait to read your post…


  3. This sounds intriguing. I’m not familiar with Redhill. My library only has his novel Consolation, which also sounds very good and is now on the list for my next trip.


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