Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill
There’s always something very appealing about a book set in your hometown, and even more so when the neighbourhood is part of your extended stomping ground. Bellevue Square is one of those, taking place largely on the streets of our own Kensington Market in 2017. Michael Redhill won the Giller Prize for it in the fall.
The prose is lovely, and he captures the nuances of the diverse population of the market park (before it was reduced to its current rubble by contractors over the fall). The cast of characters includes addicts, miscreants, market stall workers and circus performers; all daily visitors to the square that is the heart of Kensington.
Jean is a bookseller (how meta), recently moved to the city from Dundas, who one day is told she has a doppelganger trundling around the market. People swear up and down that they are the same person, though they both deny it. There are even pictures of this other woman, eerily similar to Jean, but out of focus in the shot. It’s just enough to send Jean down the rabbit hole, progressively spending more and more of her time in the park as the summer wears on. The book follows Jean’s obsessive nearly year-long quest to find the mysterious other woman; catalogues the lies to her husband (and police), missed days at work, a couple deaths, encounters at CAMH, and the ups and downs of what Jean, her family, and the reader, all hope is recovery.
Bellevue Square also made me doubt my own sanity—just a little. Any truly affective book has the power to do so, to a greater or lesser degree, and Redhill nailed it. This may have factored into that Giller win I mentioned above. For anyone who has ever grappled with mental illness, Bellevue Square can strike very close to the mark with the question of how true to reality our perceptions of the world are.
One line that gave me chills? ‘If you go in [to the woods] far enough, you might come upon the way things aren’t.’