From Giller Prize-winning author Michael Redhill comes a literary thriller about a woman who fears for her sanity--and then her life--when she learns that her doppelganger has appeared in a local park.
Jean Mason has a doppelganger. She's never seen her, but others swear they have. Apparently, her identical twin hangs out in Kensington Market, where she sometimes buys churros and drags an empty shopping cart down the streets, like she's looking for something to put in it. Jean's a grown woman with a husband and two kids, as well as a thriving bookstore in downtown Toronto, and she doesn't rattle easily--not like she used to. But after two customers insist they've seen her double, Jean decides to investigate.
She begins at the crossroads of Kensington Market: a city park called Bellevue Square. Although she sees no one who looks like her, it only takes a few visits to the park for her to become obsessed with the possibility of encountering her twin in the flesh. With the aid of a small army of locals who hang around in the park, she expands her surveillance, making it known she'll pay for information or sightings. A peculiar collection of drug addicts, scam artists, philanthropists, philosophers and vagrants--the regulars of Bellevue Square--are eager to contribute to Jean's investigation. But when some of them start disappearing, she fears her alleged double has a sinister agenda. Unless Jean stops her, she and everyone she cares about will face a fate much stranger than death.
About the author
Michael Redhill was born in Baltimore, Maryland, but has lived in Toronto most of his life. Educated in the United States and Canada, he took seven years to complete a three-year BA in acting, film, and finally, English. Since 1988, he has published five collections of poetry, had eight plays of varying lengths performed, and been a cultural critic and essayist. He has worked as an editor, a ghost-writer, an anthologist, a scriptwriter for film and television, and in leaner times, as a waiter, a house-painter, and a bookseller. Michael is a former publisher and one of the editors of Brick, a journal of things literary. His most recent books are Fidelity, a collection of short fiction, from Doubleday Canada, Martin Sloane, a novel from Doubleday Canada (nominated for the Giller Prize, 2001; the Trillium Prize, 2001; the Torgi Award, 2002; the City of Toronto Book Award, 2002; the Books in Canada/Amazon.com Best First Novel Prize, 2002; and winner of the Commonwealth Writersâ?? Prize for Best First Book, Canada/Caribbean, 2001); Light-Crossing, a collection of poetry from Torontoâ??s House of Anansi Press; and Building Jerusalem, a play from Playwrights Canada Press (winner of the 2001 Dora Mavor Moore Award for Best New Play; recipient of a Chalmers Canadian Play Award, 2001; and nominated for a Governor Generalâ??s Literary Award, 2001). His new play, Goodness was published by Coach House Press in 2005 His latest novel, Consolation, was published by Doubleday Canada in 2006 and won the 2007 Toronto Book Award. It was also long-listed for the Man Booker Prize.
- Long-listed, Toronto Book Award
- Winner, Scotiabank Giller Prize
Excerpt: Bellevue Square (by (author) Michael Redhill)
My doppelganger problems began one afternoon in early April.
I was alone in the store, shelving books and humming along to Radio 2. Mr. Ronan, one of my regulars, came in. I watched him from my perspective in Fiction as he chose an aisle and went down it.
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.
He’s promised to tell me if I get it right one day. So far he hasn’t been Gordon or any of its short forms, soubriquets, or cognomens. Not Gary, Gabriel, Glenn, or Gene and neither Gerald nor Graham, my first two guesses, based on my feeling that he looked pretty Geraldish at times but also very Grahamish, too. He’s a late-middle-aged ex-academic or ex-accountant or someone who spent his life at a desk, who once might have been a real fireplug, like Mickey Rooney, but who, at sixty-plus years, looks like a hound in a sweater. There is no woman in his life, to judge by the fine blond and red hairs that creep up the sides of his ears.
I know he likes first editions and broadsides, as well as books about architecture and miniatures. I keep my eye out for him. And he’s a gazpacho enthusiast. You get all kinds. I always discover something new when Mr. Ronan comes in. For instance, you can make soup from watermelons. I did not know that.
He came around a corner and stopped when he saw me. He was out of breath. “There you are,” he said. “When did you get here?”
“To the Fiction section?”
“You’re dressed differently now,” he said. “And your hair was shorter.”
“My hair? What are you talking about?”
“You were in the market. Fifteen minutes ago. I saw you.”
“No. That wasn’t me. I wasn’t in any market.”
“Huh,” he said. He had a disagreeable expression on his face, a look halfway between fear and anger. He smiled with his teeth. “You were wearing grey slacks and a black top with little gold lines on it. I said hello. You said hello. Your hair was up to here!” He chopped at the base of his skull. “So you have a twin, then.”
“I have a sister, but she’s older than me and we look nothing alike.” I don’t mention that Paula is certain that G. Ronan’s name is Gavin. “And I’ve been here all morning.”
“Nuh-uh,” he said. “No, I’m sure we . . .” He left the aisle. My back tingled and I had the instinct to move to a more open area of the store, where I could watch him. I went behind my cash desk and started to pencil prices into a stack of green-covered Penguin crime. I flipped up their covers and wrote 5.99 in each one, keeping my eye on my strangely nervous customer. Finally, he came out of the racks with The Conquest of Gaul and put it down on my desk.
“Oh . . . Mr. Ronan? I wanted to tell you I found a pretty first edition of Miniature Rooms by Mrs. Thorne. Original blue boards, flat, clean inside. Do you want to see it?”
“Yes,” he said, like it hurt to speak. I brought it out from the rare and first editions case. “It’s just uncanny, it really is,” he said.
“Yes! She said hello back like she knew me. I swear to god she called me by name!”
“But I don’t know your name. Right? Mr. G. Ronan? I think you dreamt this.”
“But it just happened,” he said, like that explained something to him. “And you knew my name.”
“Mr. Ronan,” I said, “I am one hundred per cent—”
I didn’t like the look in his eye. He began edging around the side of the desk, coming closer, and I backed away, but he lunged at me with a cry and grabbed me by the shoulders. Despite his size, I couldn’t hold him off and he backed me up, hard, against the first editions case. I heard the books behind me thud and tumble. “Take it off!” he shouted in my face. With one hand, he tried to yank my hair from my head. “Take off the wig!”
“Get back!” I shrieked. I pushed against his forehead with my palm. “Get off me!”
“Goddamn you, Mrs. Mason!” When a fistful of my hair wouldn’t tear off, he leapt up and stumbled backwards, his eyes locked on mine, but washed of rage. The blood had drained from his face. “Christ, that’s real!”
“Yes! It’s real! See? Real hair attached to my own, personal head.”
“What is wrong with you?”
He grovelled to the other side of the desk. “Oh my god. I’m so sorry. I must be having another attack.”
“Another attack! Of what? Do you want me to call an ambulance?”
“I’ll be okay. I’m really sorry. I don’t know what came over me, Jean. Forgive me.”
That was the first time he had ever used my name. “You scared me. And you hurt me, you know?” I began to feel the pain seep through the shock of being battered. “Are you sure I can’t call a friend or someone?”
“No. I’ll go home and lie down. I’m just so sorry.” He took his wallet out and put his trembling credit card down on the cash desk.
I tapped it for him. We stood together in a dreadful silence until I said, “Gilbert.”
“No,” he replied.
Winner of the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize
#1 National Bestseller
Longlisted for the 2018 Toronto Book Award
A Globe and Mail Best Book of 2017
A National Post Best Book of 2017
A CBC Best Book of 2017
A Kobo Best Book of 2017
A NOW Magazine Best Book of 2017
"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." —The 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize Jury
"The opening chapters of this new opus, Bellevue Square, stick closely to the grip-lit script: simple, compelling prose, sudden plot twists, looming violence and a female narrator who swiftly proves unreliable. But as the reader becomes more and more absorbed in the story, the book quietly becomes something else. Something mystifying and haunting and entirely its own. . . . Reading Bellevue Square is as captivating as it is unsettling. . . . This modern ghost story . . . will not soon be forgotten." —Toronto Star
"Bellevue Square is something of a performance. . . . In its taut span of 262 pages, Bellevue Square features several narrative and tonal hairpin turns. With each of these, our admiration for Redhill's storytelling dexterity burgeons. . . . I'd rather be lost in Redhill's ghost story than grounded in your average slab of tasteful literary realism." —The Globe and Mail
"Described often as a dark, comic thriller, Bellevue Square is packed full of themes keeping the reader a little off balance but always entertained." —Vancouver Sun
"Not since Paul Auster's City of Glass has there been a novel this engaging about doppelgangers and the psychological horror they wreak. . . . As chilling as that stranger you're pretty sure has been following you all afternoon." —The Title
"[A] moving and beautifully written memoir." —CBC Books
"There's a boldness to [Bellevue Square] and, at its best, a genuine thrill." —The Walrus
"Sit yourself down in Bellevue Square and watch as parallel worlds collide. Redhill has written a mind-blowing brainteaser of a novel with plot twists worthy of David Lynch. A brilliant tribute to those among us whose brains are wired differently." —Neil Smith, author of Boo
"By turns harrowing and mesmerizing." —Quill & Quire
"Even as we start doubting Jean we can’t stop loving her. Along the way, Redhill gives us a ton of twists and turns and makes Toronto one of the stars of the show." —NOW
Funny, unsettling, fragmented literary thrillerFascinating exploration of character, identity and perspective with excellent character writing. Not in love with the lack of closure in the wrap-up, but it's very literary and in keeping with the fragmented structure and unreliable narrator. Features nuanced depictions of mental illness, quirky character studies, excellent Canadian world-building/description, and some borderline horror/suspense elements. Despite a lack of traditional story structure, the reading experience was engaging; I basically inhaled this book in (almost) one sitting. Is there such a thing as a literary thriller?
Deep, dark storytellingBellevue Square is not a story that is easy to forget. It is dark and compelling but also left me guessing to the very end, while hanging out to every beautiful sentence.
I also feel like it is a hard book to categorize. What is it? A thriller, a mystery, comedic, a Giller Prize (perhaps) winner? Michael Redhill wrote a book unlike many others and for that I give him big props. I think anyone who is so creative and creates such new ideas needs to be recognized for original though (hard to come by these days). It is an interesting book to read because I wanted desperately to know what was going to happen, but I also wanted to read slowly and savour every word of the beautiful and often difficult, writing. I don’t find most typical “page-turner thrillers” cause the same pause in their words. The writing is both very clever and thought provoking giving me understanding to how it ended up on the short list for the Giller Prize.
The story is about a woman, a normal woman, married with two boys, who owns a bookstore. Jean is told one day that she has a double, a doppelganger by one of her regular customers. This intrigues Jean and she starts hanging out at a local park, where apparently the twin hangs out, to try to spot her for herself. But the story doesn’t stay that simple. Will the real woman please stand up? We get taken along for a wild ride of mystery, brain tumors, alternative worlds, mental wards and the difference between truth and fiction. I am still not even sure if I understood everything myself and although I tend to not read things twice I feel like this one might be worth the effort.
I love the careful and thoughtful interactions between Jean and the regulars in the park. I am one of those people who feel it’s important to listen to everyone’s story, including those who live in parks, so this was refreshing.
In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Redhill mentions that Bellevue Square explores loss and “is about the surprising (and disturbing) plasticity of the self and what happens when the sense you’ve made of things stops making sense.” I think we can all relate to that. The self always keep going, even long after things have stopped making sense.
I don’t want to post any spoilers, but would recommend the read. And then call me up and we can discuss it, okay?