"No one can be lonely who has a book for company." ~ Nelle Reagan

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Bellwether Revivals

The Bellether Revivals
Author:  Benjamin Wood
Publisher:  McClelland and Stewart
Publication Date:  March 20, 2012
Pages:  428
ISBN:  9780771089312
Fiction - literary, Fiction - psychological
Source:  I borrowed a copy (ARC) from work.

Part Secret History, part Brideshead Revisited for the 21st century, The Bellwether Revivals is a page-turning, romantic, eerie tale of genius and, possibly madness; a stunning debut for fans of Sarah Waters, Donna Tartt, and Lauren Goff.

The Bellwether Revivals opens and closes with bodies.  The story of whose bodies and how they came to be spread about an elegant house on the river near Cambridge is told by Oscar, a young, bright working class man who has fallen in love with an upper-class Cambridge student, Iris and thereby become entangled with a group of close friends, led by Iris' charismatic, brilliant, possibly dangerous brother.  For Eden Bellwether believes he can heal -- and perhaps more -- through the power of music.  In this masterful debut, we too are seduced by this gilded group of young people, entranced by Eden's powerful personality and his obvious talent as a musician, and caught off guard by the strangeness of Iris and Eden's parents.  And we find ourselves utterly unsure as to whether Eden Bellwether is a saviour or a villain, and whether Oscar will be able to solve this mystery in time to save himself, if not everyone else.  (from the publisher)

My Review:

Stopping outside Kings College Chapel to listen to the music that wafts beyond the doors may have been his first mistake.  This is where Oscar meets lovely Iris Bellwether as she awaits her brother Eden, the organist responsible for the tune that enthralled Oscar.  Drawn not only by her beauty and undeniable charm, but by a world previously unbeknownst to him, Oscar quickly falls in love.

Oscar is an intelligent young man who works as an aide at a home for the elderly and he takes pleasure in his job.  He enjoys the relationships he has forged with the patients he cares for.  Estranged from his mother and father, Oscar may have been seeking a place to fit in, a place where he can leave his world behind with new friends and opportunities.  He is not shallow, he just seems a bit bored with life as he knows it. His association with Iris, her brother Eden, and their friends draws him into a world of love, mystery, and dangerous genius.

It is when Iris enlists Oscar's help in gathering evidence to prove the mentally instability of her brother Eden, that everyone's lives become more complicated.  As Eden becomes more obsessed with his desire to prove himself able to heal through music, we realize his genius is bordering upon madness. Eden surely is delusional, seeking recognition of his brilliance, and, as time and opportunities allow, his experiments grow more dangerous and tragic.  As the synopsis indicates, the novel opens with death, (though we aren't at that time introduced to the victim) and closes with death.  It's the in-between that is so intriguing as to make one put off everything else, including bed, just to see where the story will take the reader.

Benjamin Wood provides an intense well-researched novel in The Bellwether Revivals.  Wood explores mental illness, healing and faith, leaving the door partially open for us to decide about the capacity of music to heal.

An intriguing expose of the genius bordering upon madness, The Bellwether Revivals is worthy of your attention.  Note:  due to the subject matter and some language, I rate this novel 16+ and 4.5/5 stars.

Meet the author:

BENJAMIN WOOD was born in 1981 and grew up in northwest England. In 2004, he was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to attend the MFA Creative Writing programme at the University of British Columbia. During his tenure as fiction editor of Canadian literary journal, PRISM international, the publication was awarded the Writers' Trust of Canada/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize. Benjamin's short fiction has appeared in several international journals, and his novel The Bellwether Revivals was shortlisted for the inaugural Dylan Thomas Prize Sony Reader Award for the best unpublished novel. He is a lecturer in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London, where he teaches and develops undergraduate programmes.

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