The Bellwether Revivals
- Simon & Schuster Ltd
- Publication Date:
- 02 February 2012
- Modern & Contemporary
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I've had the great pleasure of reading some wonderful debut novels this year. I got two of them around the same time and they came out within a month of each other. One was <i>The Starboard Sea</i> by Amber Dermont, the other was <i>The Bellwether Revivals</i> by Benjamin Wood. Both are school stories, although the school setting is different. In Dermont's book it's American prep school in the 1980's - in Wood's it is Cambridge and its environs. Both are about a young man's journey through the worlds of privilege and elite and the way their encounters change who they are and, ultimately, help them grow up.I was immediately attracted to <i>The Bellwether Revivals</i> because it was described as similar to <i>The Secret History</i> by Donna Tartt and <i>Brideshead Revisited</i> by Evelyn Waugh. Since those are both favorites of mine, reading this was a no-brainer, although my expectations weren't terribly high. Most books compared to these two don't stand a snowball's chance in hell - it's sort of unfair to put those labels on a book.I loved <i>The Bellwether Revivals</i>. It does, indeed, contain elements that make it similar to either book, but its voice is its own and it's a wonderful voice. Where <i>The Secret History</i> is all religious ecstasy disguised under a great deal of chilliness, <i>The Bellwether Revivals</i> is more about belief in and about others. Eden Bellwether, like Henry Winter before him, is a narcissist. His world is Edencentric - even in the healing games he plays it's really all about his own glory. I know some people found him ambiguous, found the suspense in the novel to be whether or not Eden could heal, but for me it was about what would happen when he was inevitably exposed for who he was. How far off the rails could things go?Juxtaposing the Bellwethers is Oscar, a working class man who is taken up by and falls in love with Iris, Eden's sister. The tension in the novel between the worlds the characters inhabit, particularly given the strangeness of Oscar's Cambridge friends, holds the story together. Oscar's sheer likeability and strong sense of self carry the tale along through all its improbabilities.This is the kind of book that makes it difficult to find something to read after it. It's difficult to measure up. Did I mention that I loved this book? Another favorite for this year and a wonderful debut of an author I look forward to reading in the future. Highly recommended.
The author seamlessly weaves together the lives of Oscar, the protagonist, the Bellwethers, and "the flock". Even that terminology, used by Eden, and by the author throughout the book to describe a group of friends caused me to raise my eyebrow about exactly the kind of person Eden is.My favorite characters are actually Oscar, Herbert Crest, and Dr. Paulsen. I really wish more of Crest/Paulsen's past had been revealed, but alas, not much. I couldn't but enjoy somebody who has a cherished library and pushes reading on the protagonist, who's bit of a bookworm himself, but Herbert Crest was really the character I was fascinated by. I really wish I could have seen all the conversations he had with Eden, but the point of view of Oscar was certainly limiting in that respect, but I can't say the Crest/Eden conversations would have added anything to the story (probably why they were left out) but I'm just so curious. I'm sure everyone at the end is a bit curious about Eden, but that's prevalent throughout the book. Eden is the mystery of the story--is he a fraud, for real, kidding, what? We don't really know until the end.The end is a heartbreaker, even though know from the beginning what must happen. But I still cried. Looking back it couldn't have ended any other way, either.This book is earning a place amongst my favorites of all time.copy provided by netgalley.
Benjamin Wood makes a bold move in his debut novel, The Bellwether Revivals - he begun at the end. When I read the prologue and saw that he was telling the reader what to expect in the end, I was a little curious to see if I’d be able to see through the mystery or not. I was pleasantly surprised with the result. The Bellwether Revivals is the story of Oscar, a young caregiver at a retirement home in Cambridge, who stumbles across Eden and Iris Bellwether along with their friends, Jane, Marcus and Yin. When Oscar and Iris start dating, he is drawn into the world of the five scholars who tend to stick to themselves. Eden, a gifted musician and composer seems fixated on the idea that he can heal others through his music. Iris, concerned for her brother’s welfare, enlists Oscar’s assistance in helping her brother. The first thing I noticed about this book was the amount of research that went into the story. It’s sometimes easy to dump so much information on a reader that it becomes overwhelming, however, the author’s decision to allow the reader to gain information through multiple ways - newspaper clippings, dialogue about books, or even simple dialogue explaining theories - worked well together and I never felt overwhelmed by the new information. While there were a lot of foreign concepts for me - music and hypnotism with a bit of psychology - the prose had an easy flow to it that allowed for the story – though rather dense with detail – to be a quick read. I found it to be well paced and engaging, even though we were told what to expect in the ending. There were lots of great quotes in this book, and even the things that I didn’t necessarily agree with were interesting to ponder. Primarily, what I loved about this story was the fact that it seemed so realistic that I wouldn’t have been surprised if I looked up the Bellwethers and found articles about them on the internet. Even the minor characters were so well fleshed out that, as a reader, I found myself wanting to know more about what happened to them. If you love a smart mystery, a book that makes you think, then The Bellwether Revivals is the book for you. [ARC via Penguin; many thanks]
"There is a thin line between madness and genius". I don't remember you said this but it could well be the theme for this first novel by Benjamin Wood. The prologue, introduces the reader to the ending, this could be risky but for me it served as a catalyst to want to keep reading just to find out how and why. It also sets the tone of apprehension for the rest of the novel. Oscar, lives in a bedsit and works as a care aide in a senior center, and when he meets Iris Bellwether he knows he wants to have her in his life. Unfortunately, her brother and a few friends come along as part of the package, but it is the brother that the story focuses on. A musical genius who is convinced that he can heal with music and the power that music gives him. I have never read anything quite like this novel, it is literary fiction and also psychological suspense, and it is exceedingly well done. The flow of the story is flawless, the Bellwether family for the most part in denial about the madness of their son, leaving only Oscar to question the sanity of Eden. Things quickly spiral out of control and those that are left attempt to pick up the pieces of their lives and continue on. Alternately strange and brilliant, this is definitely one of the most original pieces of fiction I have read this year. ARC from NetGalley.
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