The Bellwether Revivals
Author: Benjamin Wood
Title: The Bellwether Revivals
Setting: Cambridgeshire, England
Paperback, 432 pages
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A Philosophical Narrative Every Music Lover Should Read
“My theory is that hope is a form of madness. A benevolent one, sure, but madness all the same”, Benjamin Wood.
Set in Cambridge, The Bellwether Revivals is a somber novel about the intricacies of the mind. Its masterful prose, highly descriptive, mentions some great pillars of musical theory such as Gustav Mahler and Johann Matheson. Mixing music with philosophy, Descartes also finds his way in some dialogues. The author, Benjamin Wood (England, 1981), acknowledged in an interview that he had made a thorough research for the book, and we can notice that. Such degree of accuracy would not have been possible otherwise.
At first sight, when I had the book in my hands, it was difficult to decipher what the plot would be about. The synopsis made it look like a psychological thriller, it mentioned “disturbing experiments”, a “line between genius and madness” that “begins to blur”, but what sort of experiments would be performed? As I started reading the book, I realised that they would be musical. Oscar, the protagonist, met Iris Bellwether lured by her big brother´s organ performance at a chapel. Eden Bellwether attributed this to the power of music and, a few days later, took the oportunity to conduct an hypnotic and sadomasochistic experiment with Oscar, hurting him. However, music is not only present in the experiments: the whole book is filled with its charm. Oscar made love to his girlfriend Iris while listening to music. Iris loved to play the cello. There is a difference between this type of music and the one of the experiments, though. A song can be really sinister when it is used in an experiment for narcisistic purposes, for the sake of a power struggle over somebody else. Due to the unfurling of events, at the end of the story, Oscar got sick of the organ, he would avoid it completely. Truth is that music can be mesmerizing but it can easily transform from a blessing into a curse that haunts you.
The motif of the outsider is also present in the book, as Oscar started to meet Eden and Iris´ friends, who were nothing alike him. They were well off intellectuals who belonged to the closed circle of Cambridge University. Oscar borrowed books from his patient Dr Paulsen and enjoyed reading but he had not yet tried the taste of academy. His parents had not even encouraged him to study a profession and he had been eager to leave that house and start working as a care assitant in Cedarbrook in a search for independency.
The plot ends with a crime and, although there is some foreshadowing, the reader sees the deaths but he does not know if they were accidents or a murders. In the end, the answer is like a trick performed by an ilusionist. Despite its unexpectedness, it has been there all along. In honour of the psychologist of the novel, Herbert Crest, it makes complete sense and does not leave any loose ends. The title is a play on words: revivals from music but also from reviving to life.
Religion was mentioned throughout the novel, specially when the Bellwethers asked Oscar about his thinking and he expressed that he did not believe in anything. We can see in several sequences that Iris´ parents were overbearing with her, just the contrary to Eden´s situation. Eden had the support of his very peculiar parents no matter how ludicrous his ideas were. This distinction made the relationship between Iris and Eden even more difficult than it was and when Oscar met them, he realised that theirs was a strange bond, too cold for brotherhood.
To conclude, The Bellwether Revivals shows a lot of talent for a first novel. Instead of being broken into many different events, it focuses on a few intertwined events and dissects them. It analyses human behaviour in an original and unique way, mixing two aspects that have never been linked before in fiction: music and hypnotism.
Other books by the same author:
A Station on the Path to Somewhere Better
Blurb from the book:
For twenty years, Daniel Hardesty has borne the emotional scars of a childhood trauma which he is powerless to undo, which leaves him no peace.
One August morning in 1995, the young Daniel and his estranged father Francis – a character of ‘two weathers’, of irresistible charm and roiling self-pity – set out on a road trip to the North that seems to represent a chance to salvage their relationship. They have one shared interest – The Artifex, a children’s TV drama for which Fran works on set – and Daniel has been promised special access to the studio. But with every passing mile, the layers of Fran’s mendacity and desperation are exposed, pushing him to acts of violence that will define the rest of his son’s life.
The acclaimed author of The Ecliptic writes a novel of exceptional force and beauty about the bond between fathers and sons, about the invention and reconciliation of self – weaving a haunting story of violence and love.
Blurb from the book:
On a forested island off the coast of Istanbul stands Portmantle, a gated refuge for beleaguered artists. There, a curious assembly of painters, architects, writers and musicians strive to restore their faded talents. Elspeth Conroy (known as Knell) is a celebrated painter who has lost faith in her ability and fled the dizzying art scene of 1960s London. On the island, she spends her nights locked in her blacked-out studio, testing a strange new pigment for her elusive masterpiece.
But when a disaffected teenager named Fullerton arrives at the refuge, he disrupts its established routines. He is plagued by a recurring nightmare that steers him into danger, and Knell is left to pick apart the chilling mystery. Where did the boy come from, what is The Ecliptic, and how does it relate to their abandoned lives in England?
About the author of this book
Benjamin Wood grew up in northwest England. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, Canada.
His first novel The Bellwether Revivals was published by Simon & Schuster in 2012. It was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and the Commonwealth Book Prize.
The Ecliptic was published in 2015 by Scribner, was shortlisted for the Encore Award for best second novel, and was a finalist for the Sunday Times PFD Young Writer of the Year Award in 2016.
His third novel A Station on the Path to Somewhere Better will be published in June 2018.
Benjamin is currently a Lecturer in Creative Writing. He lives in Surrey with his family.
There is no affiliation between The Travelling Reader and the author. Information about the author is taken from their website and other internet sources.