For centuries we have been fascinated by the idea of there being a double of ourselves out roaming the world somewhere. More recently we have attributed the German word Doppelganger and attached a supernatural element to the phenomenon. Your biologically unrelated twin, previously referred to as a ‘fetch’ is also sometimes referred to as your ‘evil twin’. Nowadays with the advances in technology, it is possible to use facial recognition software to search the internet for your ‘twin stranger’ as websites such as http://www.twinstrangers.net refers to it. This site alone has claimed numerous successful searches for twin strangers, including finding three twins for its founder!!!
Twins, Twin Strangers, Doppelgangers or more than just uncanny biological likenesses play a part in this months second book, its Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill and published by No Exit Press (www.noexit.co.uk) on the 15th August.
Jean Mason, is a happily married Torontonian bookseller, with two children, an interfering Jewish mother-in-law, oh, and a doppelganger. Curious about reports of her double is living locally, Jean sets out to search for her. Having found a name and the locale for her double, she goes and lurks in areas where her twin has been spotted. There she meets and befriends a witness, Katerina who tells her a tale of an evil twin who steals a woman’s child. Jean starts to hang out in a local park, the titular Bellevue Square, where she befriends the local homeless population and bribes them for sightings of her double, which of course they are only too happy to supply. As the obsession with locating and meeting her twin takes over, it starts to have an effect on her business and personal life. At this point Jeans behaviour becomes obsessive and it all gets a bit surreal. When Katerina is murdered and Jean is found at the scene she identifies herself by her double’s name. It’s here we discover there is a medical condition called Autoscopy from the Greek for ‘self’ and ‘watching’ , where the sufferer don’t recognize themselves i.e their reflection in a mirror or window but believe it to be another person. Is her twin all in Jean’s head? Is Jean all in someone else’s head?
I was intrigued by the back cover blurb of Bellevue Square when I was sent it by the publisher to review for this ten day blog tour. Having an interest in thrillers and the paranormal, I was looking forward to this read. However, here I met the first of many obstacles to my understanding and appreciation of this book. Firstly, Jean uses technology all the time. She messages and calls people and uses Skype to call her sick sister. But, when searching for this mysterious lookalike, she goes all old school and prowls the neighbourhood, yes using technology would have made it a very short book, but in this day and age it felt a little strange.
Then Jean starts using her twin’s name at the scene of Katerina’s murder. Here we go, I thought. She’s going to be implicated in the killing. I couldn’t have been more wrong, instead the novel veers off in another tangent and starts to delve into the treatment of mental health problems and from here it all gets seriously existential. What is real? What is in our heads? My thoughts were drawn to films such as Being John Malkovich and Shutter Island for parallels.
This is multi-award winning Canadian author, Poet and playwright Michael Redhill’s (michaelredhill.wordpress.com) ninth book, his other books include Martin Sloane (2001), Fidelity (2003), Consalation(2006), Saving Houdini(2014). He’s also written four books under the pseudonym Inger Ashe Wolfe, featuring the detective Hazel Micallef, they include The Taken(2007), The Calling (2008), The Night Bell(2015) and The Door In The River(2012), he lives with his family in Toronto.
The more I read of the book, the less I cared about Jean and was starting to lose interest in the story. I would’ve liked to have learned more about the pre twin Jean before the story began to unfold further. But maybe there was no pre twin Jean? It kind of felt like Redhill couldn’t make his mind up either. As this is part of a triptych, perhaps I would be able make more sense of things after reading the other two books?
Its certainly an interesting concept. I did like the way he described characters of the
homeless in Bellevue Square, although I felt sometimes like he was writing a political statement regarding current problems with homelessness and the provision of mental health services. Redhill constantly turns the tables in this novel, altering your understanding of what you read a few pages before and took as real and now making it a lie. I was beginning to “doubt my own mind” a little by the end!
As for the title of the book, there is actually a Bellevue square in Toronto, it’s a small park in the heart of Toronto’s Kensington Market neighbourhood. Among its many talking points, is a life size bronze statue of Toronto-born actor and director Al Waxman, best known for his role as Larry King in the television series “King of Kensington”.
All In all, this was a thought provoking read. One for the deep thinkers amongst you but not for lovers of paranormal or mystery stories or, it seemed, me.
Reviewed by Georgina Murphy
Don’t forget to read what the other reviewers on this blog tour thought by visiting their sites listed below.