“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!