I was once tagged on a Facebook photo of an event I did not remember at all. After a moment, I realized that the friend who tagged me made a mistake, and the woman she thought was me was someone else completely. The woman’s features were somewhat obscured by sunglasses, but the resemblance otherwise was enough to confuse even me for a moment. I’ve had people before tell me they’ve seen my doppelganger around, but I’ve always dismissed those as exaggeration. The Facebook photo was the closest experience I’ve ever had of seeing a possible doppelganger for myself, and it was disquieting.
So I was immediately hooked by the premise of Michael Redhill’s Giller Prize-nominated book Bellevue Square. A bookseller named Jean learns from customers that she has a doppelganger walking around in Bellevue Square, Kensington Market. Kensington Market in Toronto is a vibrant neighbourhood, with lots of small shops and people from different walks of life. I can imagine the goldmine it provides to a novelist’s mind, and Redhill does a great job in bringing the neighbourhood to life. I enjoyed reading about familiar streets and landmarks, and imagine that the people Jean encounters in her investigation are people I may have passed on the street.
From the premise, I imagined an Andrew Pyper-esque supernatural twist on the doppelganger’s identity, but Redhill takes the story in a completely unexpected (for me) direction. What begins as a straightforward enough mystery reveals itself to be an exploration of obsession and mental illness, and just as I think I finally understand what’s happening, Redhill throws in a scene that makes me question the validity of the scientific explanation. Bellevue Square is mystery, horror, medical drama and existentialism all in one, with some fourth-wall-breaking references to the author himself thrown in. I don’t think I completely understand what was going on, nor, to be honest, was it quite trippy enough to completely blow my mind, but I thought Redhill did a good job.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.