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Bookends: What’s the matter with the book seller? April 17, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: What’s the matter with the book seller?

By Dan Davidson

December 28, 2017

– 806 words –

 

Bellvue SquareBellevue Square

By Michael Redhill

272 pages

Doubleday Canada

$32.00

 

Some time after he had achieved genre superstardom as a writer of thrillers and horror novels, Stephen King got out the drafts of his earlier unpublished novels, rewrote them, and issued them under the name of Richard Bachman. He’s not quite clear on why he used a pseudonym for these books, which sold only moderately well until some sharp-eyed reader outed him and then they sold much better.

Eventually he ended the career of his alter-ego, who had had his own author photo and fake biography on the back of each book, saying that he died of cancer of the pseudonym. He would later revisit the consequences of this action in the novel The Dark Halfand the novella “Secret Window, Secret Garden”.

J.K. Rowling walked a similar path after the Harry Potter books, producing a series of detective novels under the name of Richard Galbraith. She was outed before the first one appeared, but has continued to use that name for her Cormoran Strike mysteries (four so far).

Trevor Ferguson has written some books in the Detective Emile Cinq-Mars series of mysteries (five so far) under the pen name of John Farrow, while pursuing literary fiction under his own name.

Michael Redhill has been productive in several genres as well. There are two plays, four volumes of poetry, four literary novels and four mysteries, the latter under the name Inger Ash Wolfe. The choice of name and gender reverses the more normal publication practice of women hiding behind men’s names.

The present book, which is a psychological thriller of the unreliable narrator variety, begins by introducing us to Jean Mason, an independent bookshop owner in Toronto, in an area near Kensington Market.

It begins, “My doppelganger problems began one afternoon in early April” and it continues to get much stranger after that. One of her regular customers tells her that he has just seen her in the nearby park, but that somehow she has managed to change her clothes and get a haircut in about 15 minutes.

Thus begins Jean’s obsessive quest to find this other woman, a quest which leads her to spend hours each day staking out the park and making the acquaintance of its denizens, many of whom are, to say the least, eccentric. So is she, as we slowly begin to realize.

That, however, is far from all in terms of plot twists, for it develops that almost everything we have learned about Jean and a number of the people around her, are not things that will pass the test of objective reality. And from that point in the book, we are left wondering just what parts of what comes next are real and which are parts of a delusional psychosis that sometimes has Jean institutionalized and sometimes has her moving about freely.

Is there a doppelganger or isn’t there? Does she look almost exactly like Jean? It that person named Inger Ash Wolfe, and has she been the author of four mystery novels? And if you’re beginning to sense something odd here, go back to the paragraph that begins with the words: “Michael Redhill has been productive in several genres as well.” and check out his pen name.

It’s a spooky story, and at the end of it, when the police sit down with Jean and ask her to give her full name, you’re going to be left wondering, as I was, just what she might have said in reply.

This book got a lot of press notice this year, Aside from being the winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize, it was a #1 National Bestseller, a Globe and Mail Best Book of 2017, a National Post Best Book of 2017, a Kobo Best Book of 2017 and a NOW Magazine Best Book of 2017.

I don’t know that I’d agree with everything the 2017 Giller Prize Jury  had to say about it, but it’s worth quoting as part of this review:

“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.”

I agree with the last sentence, but have to tell you that I was intrigued by Redhill’s other literary life, and picked up a copy of The Calling, the first of his Hazel Micallefmysteries. My next column will be about that book.

 

-30-

 

 

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