Should You Hunt a Doppleganger?: Redhill’s Bellevue Square

Trinity Bellwoods, the model for Bellevue Square

In Michael Redhill’s Bellevue Square, Jean Mason decides to track down her double/look-alike/doppleganger. One of the customers at her bookstore reports he has just seen Jean with shorter hair and in different clothes in Toronto’s Kensington Market. He reacts violently when she denies it, and, eventually is found hanging in his apartment. He’s not the only one who sees the double and ends up dead.

Jean sets out on a quest to find this other woman, who’s name is apparently Ingrid Fox, and who, it turns out, is a mystery writer.

I felt almost uniquely qualified to understand this book. (Not quite unique because my reading partner, Georgia, has the same sort of qualification.)

I can intentionally look at my image in a mirror, but if I inadvertently catch a glimpse of myself, I have to avert my eyes instantly because that’s not me I’m seeing. If I keep looking, I zone out or become dissociated. It’s as if the image is hypnotizing me. And, yes, I have had therapy. I have discovered hidden parts of me, particularly one – D, who led a life I didn’t remember. Not a very fun-filled one. A sober cult-ish life devoted to foretelling the future and trying to keep other cult-ish people out of trouble. With pretty much zero success! Knowing the future apparently does not change behavior.

Once I discovered D’s existence, I still had a long way to go before we got integrated enough that I stopped getting up in the middle of the night and putting on robes.

One thing I always knew was that I couldn’t just get rid of her. I had been assured that I was not psychotic -at great expense- but I always sensed that I could become mad if I tried to cut off D. or any of her lesser sisters.

Jean has a somewhat different problem, autoscopy. Something is wrong with her brain, somewhere between the temporal lobe and the ear. (There are several people with damaged brains in the story, oddly in the same area.) This disease causes sufferers to externalize their self-image.

In an effort to achieve integration (my interpretation), Jean begins neglecting her bookshop, her two sons and her ex-policeman (or actual police chief) husband Ian to search for Ingrid. She does this by sitting in a park, Bellevue Square, where Ingrid has been sighted. There she relates to the park’s habituées – eccentric, drug-addled, mad but lucid and just plain mad.

But she doesn’t find Ingrid. Not until the end of Part 1, when Katarina, who sells pupusas in Kensington Market and was the second person to report the doppleganger is shot. Jean is the main suspect. Only then does she spot Ingrid crossing the park. As she follows, Jean wonders if Ingrid is “the harbinger of her death”.

Then we discover Jean is actually a university lecturer who has vanished from her classes, and her husband, Ian, seems to have a problem with her owning a bookstore.

Things get weird. Jean has a mirror experience: she sees herself but she’s not in the room. While she gets closer to Ingrid -entering her home and making a gorilla sandwich for Ingrid’s daughter, and discovering Ingrid has a boo-boo in her head – she gets farther from herself. Finally, she ends up in a hospital bed, coming out of unconsciousness.

My reading partner, Georgia, said initially that she must be too stupid to understand the book. Then as we talked, she hypothesized that everyone besides Jean was really Jean. Even Jimmie, whom she breaks out of CAMH, the mental health clinic, and who goes with her on a long hazardous flight to a northern woods. There he seems to abandon her and she finds herself more than ever lost.

Obviously, the book is about identity and fluid identity at that. Jean is following breadcrumbs in a quest for herself. Does she succeed? Maybe the next book in this three part series Modern Ghosts will tell us.

I am a little worried about Michael Redhill, considering what happens to Inge Ash Wolfe in the novel, since that is his pseudonym when he writes mysteries. Maybe he just integrated Inge and Michael and all will be well with one author identity.

Bellevue Square must mean something. It won the Giller prize of $100,000. Perhaps Georgia, D and I aren’t up to the job after all.

Full Disclosure: Initially, I published Never Tell, my e-memoir, under the pseudonym of Joyce Hood, as I did this blog. I have reverted to Joyce Howe, now that all the cult-ish types are either gone or toothless.

Coming soon to an Amazon near you Hour of the Hawk, a mystery by Joyce Howe

 

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Ruth Rendell’s The Saint Zita Society

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Ruth Rendell

Ruth Rendell, (aka Barbara Vine) the 82 year-old British novelist

Saint Zita, Ruth Rendell tells us, is the patron saint of servants. The Saint Zita Society is spearheaded by June, the 80 year-old companion to the Princess. June gets little or no respect and starts the society to improve working conditions on Hexam Place, an upscale London address. Attendance is never high, the chief draw being that meetings are held in the local pub, the Dugong. (You could look that word up in a myth dictionary.)

I would call it an ensemble novel because it has so many characters all more or less of equal importance. Only one of them, Rabia, the Muslim nursery maid to Thomas, a banker’s son, engages our sympathy. She has had a tragic history as mother and wife and she has attached herself to her charge with ferocity.

Two of the others fall into the doormat category: Thea, who rightly claims that she is not actually a servant, nonetheless, is admitted to the Society because she fulfills that role to her landlords, a gay couple planning a civil union ceremony and to the angry widow who lives in the first floor flat of the 3 flat house. She would qualify for sainthood herself if she wasn’t filled with furious resentment. The other pushover is Dr. Jefferson, Hexham’s resident paediatrician. The doctor does not, of course qualify as a member, nor do, the gay couple, the Princess or Lord and Lady Studley.

There are several drivers, Jimmy, Beacon and Henry, easily distinguishable by their differing morality and who they drive for – Dr. Jefferson, Mr Still and Lord Studly, respectively. They do not indulge in alcoholic beverages at the meetings, although some of them indulge in other vices on their own time.

Several people entertain the idea of marrying persons they do not love, but these plans don’t always pan out. In fact love gets a bad rap in this book, with the exception of Rabia’s love for baby Thomas.

There are those ready and willing to take advantage of the pliant nature of others, including the gay couple and the Still’s au pair, Montserrat, who lives in the Still’s house and collects a salary but apparently has no duties.

There are 2 nasty old girls, the afore-mentioned Mrs. Grieves and the Princess, although the Princess’s dog Gussie may have the inside edge on nastiness.

The novel is not a Whodunit nor even a Whydunit, nor even a Will-they catch-em. It’s inciting event is an accidental death, which gets mismanaged, so to say. There are, I hasten to add, additional, actual murders. A red-headed detective wanders ineffectually  into the drawing rooms and bedsits of Hexham Place. Nevertheless things get wrapped up nicely, including the St. Zita Society. No one is left out of this denouement. And there is a measure of what my history prof called natural justice in the end.

I read this book on my Kindle.