Buy Now on Amazon.ca
Buy Now on Amazon.com
A sophisticated and subtly complex debut novel by Benjamin Wood, The Bellwether Revivals begins with a house full of dead bodies and a severely injured young man named Eden Bellwether. The story then pulls back to a few months prior so the reader can try to figure out how it all led up to that point. The character of Eden Bellwether is presented as an arrogant, charismatic but sinister Cambridge student who is obsessed with philosophy and music theory, but even more obsessed with himself. He leads his sister, Iris, and a small group of loyal friends further into his own cult of self, while Iris's new boyfriend Oscar--a townie--observes with discomfort and concern. Can Eden be trusted? Does he have special healing powers, as he claims, or is he perhaps mentally ill? And why does everyone around him seem to bend to his will?
In some ways the novel is one large extended metaphor. A bellwether sheep is the
lead sheep in a flock, the one a shepherd would traditionally fit with a bell so that he would always know where the flock was, since whither the bellwether goes there go the sheep. Eden Bellwether is clearly the leader of his flock, so much so that his friends even refer to themselves as the "little flock." But I wonder if Benjamin Wood's bellwether metaphor goes a little deeper than just the behaviour of field sheep. There was a science fiction novel published in 1997 called Bellwether, by Connie Willis, in which a sociologist studies fads and chaos theory and uses the bellwether sheep as a model for studying how people follow trends (following a human bellwether).
What made me think of this was the curious lack of references to technology fads that would have been popular in 2003 when the story takes place. None of the characters have MP3 players, for instance, even though they are all extremely privileged university students. Instead they have stacks of CDs, walkmans (walkmans!) and "ghetto blasters" (a term I hadn't heard since the 80s). They rarely use their cellphones, never text each other, don't mention laptops and rely on answering machines (the kinds that beep, like in movies from the 1980s!). It just seemed inconceivable to me that rich university kids would go without any of the tech trends of their time, so I had to wonder if the anachronism was intentional. Was the author trying to draw our attention to the fact that these kids followed Eden so completely that they only did what he did, only followed the trends he followed? Or was it just a way to make the novel seem slightly old-fashioned--or perhaps timeless--like it was set in the idyllic 1950s that never really was? Was England behind the trend in technology in 2003? Or was I just reading far too much into it, (much like the characters themselves might do)?
In any case, the book is hard to put down and is satisfying on every level, whether there is deeper metaphor intended or not. It's like The Talented Mr. Ripley meets We Need to Talk About Kevin. Plus it's set partly in Grantchester, which made me wish that Sidney Chambers could have just swooped in and saved the day for all involved.
Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from the publisher from NetGalley.com. I was not obliged to write a favourable review, or even any review at all. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.