The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood
By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis
Category: Literary Fiction
Author: Benjamin Wood
Format: Hardcover, 420 pages
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Pub Date: March 20, 2012
The Bellwether Revivals by debut novelist, Benjamin Wood, is in a few words, an embodiment of its own subject matter: genius and enthralling madness—and the fine line it trespasses between the two.
The narrative begins distantly, an omnipotent, observant tone that lays the foundation of its parts for the reader: the characters in Eden, the high-minded musical genius absorbed by his unconventional theories of the power of sound; Iris, his intelligent and musically talented sister who intuitively plays the cello; Oscar, the protagonist of the story, who, as the socially underprivileged and academic outsider in comparison to his new Bellwether friends, helps bring logic and compassion to this highly tense novel.
It is a book that is equally rich in its development of characters as it is in its progressive and climatic plot, which is a feat in itself considering a book usually weighs more in one spectrum than the other.
It’s a story of Eden Bellwether and his exploration of musical theory and music itself, as a force, if rightly composed and attributed, holds physically healing and redemptive powers. His musical genius and inherent self-importance, which perhaps derived from the latent seed of mental disorder was only further perpetuated by a self-indulgent and wealthy upbringing by a family who continually encouraged his prodigious talent and fearfully succumbed to his every wish. The danger of this kind of environment coupled with the mania and complexity of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, only solidified the severity of Eden’s deteriorating psychosis.
He’s a brilliant scholar and gifted musician, but the price of his superior intellect is a costly social incompetence that keeps him from being able to empathize and connect humanely, if not intimately with others. The egocentric nature of his character cannot help itself into amassing into a condescending, cocky, dominant, and controlling individual.
And those that suffer most from his presence and his ever-growing mania, are those who are closest to him, both in relation, in reverent awe, and intellectual worship—and even palpable fear.
From his debutante and complacent mother (Ruth), his confident and overly ambitious father (Theo), his suffering and compliant sister (Iris), to his specifically chosen friends (Marcus, Yin, and Jane) for their tolerance and adoration of Eden himself, as much as for their individual and necessary musical deftness.
Oscar, on the other hand, is resilient to Eden’s charms and holds a sobering view of the man whose mysterious genius is both exemplary and disconcerting. He is the grounding force for all those involved and the one with the most honest compassion as shown in his love and care for Dr. Paulsen, a resident of the nursing home, Cedarbrook, in which he works, and his willingness to involve himself in the matters of Eden’s “mental illness” on behalf of his growing relationship with Eden’s sister, Iris.
This is a powerfully unsettling read that will intrigue even the most logical personality and metaphysical, occult skeptic. It moves from delusions of grandeur to frightening crescendos of absurdity and madness that begs the question of how close and intermingled genius is with giftedness and mental illness.
Filled with the idyllic sanctuary of a wealthy environment found in the Bellwethers’ lifestyle and estate, the genuine intimacy between a couple in love, and the subordinate compliance of friends who love, revere, and almost fear their friend—it’s a gorgeous book and a “hypnotic” read. It’s a subtly frightening, psychological analysis of love, friendship, and sibling rivalry that spirals into a coarse doom of the horrors, dangers, and possibilities of a brilliant mind.
A special thank you to McClelland & Stewart for providing me with a media copy in exchange for an unpaid, honest review.
@ZaraAlexis So pleased you connected so strongly with the book, Zara. Thanks for the thoughtful review.
— Benjamin Wood (@bwoodauthor) March 22, 2012