Review published on September 10, 2018.
Jean is an ordinary woman. She owns a bookstore, is passionate about literature, lives in Toronto. One day a regular customer swears blind he’s seen her some other place, in the local market; he tries to pull off her hair, convinced it’s a wig, that she’s playing a trick on him. Mortified when he realises that it’s not, he retreats, leaving Jean shaken. So starts a disturbing psychological quest, a tale of obsession, where Jean becomes more and more preoccupied with the notion that she has a doppelgänger.
This is a novel that starts off as a psychological thriller, but soon morphs into something more than that. Jean begins to spend more and more time in Bellevue Square, where she believes her doppelgänger frequents. This is a park that’s home to a variety of down and outs, patients of a nearby psychiatric hospital, and other drop outs. She pays them for information on sightings of her double, fully aware that some of them are leading her on. So why does she do this? As the story unfolds, we soon learn that Jean’s hold on reality has not always been as firm it might be, that she has more in common with the denizens of Bellevue Square than we might have first guessed.
Cracks soon fracture in Jean’s home life and it’s here that the novel moves from psychological thriller territory into something deeper, an examination of sanity, identity and sense of self. As Jean struggles to comprehend reality, we as readers are forced to question the nature of consciousness also, for how does one know what is real and what is fantasy? At points in the narrative this is both sinister and deeply disturbing, at other’s philosophical and almost whimsical.
There are points in Bellevue Square where the narrative risks sliding into self-indulgence, the author straying into ontological metaphysics. He never quite surrenders to the urge however and the novel kept my interest until the ambiguous, and yet satisfying, denouement.
Bellevue Square is an engrossing study of one woman’s tenuous grip on her world and will have the reader questioning their own assumptions of reality. It is a challenging read and one that won’t be forgotten quickly.
James Pierson 4/4
Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill
No Exit Press 9780857302670 pbk Aug 2018