Monday October 16, 2017

How Michael Redhill created a different kind of doppelgänger story

Michael Redhill is the author of Bellevue Square.

Michael Redhill is the author of Bellevue Square. (Amanda Withers/Doubleday)

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Michael Redhill's 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize-shortlisted novel, Bellevue Square, follows a woman who sets out to track down her doppelgänger. The author, who has a double of his own — he writes mystery fiction under the pseudonym Inger Ash Wolfe — describes his novel and the twist and turns it takes readers on.

A different kind of doppelgänger

"This is a doppelgänger novel that is told from the point of view of the doppelgänger — that's basically it. It's the starting point of a book that shapeshifts on the reader. I'm not sure if that's the best way to describe the book, but it's the internal journey of the main character through a mysterious transformation. The main character's name is Jean Mason. She moved to Toronto two years before the beginning of the story with her husband and her two young sons and she has opened a bookstore. At the beginning of the story, she is approached by two different people who insist that they have just seen her spitting image walking around Kensington Market. She dismisses this at first, but then she starts to get interested. She finds herself taking up a vigil in Bellevue Square and begins using the mind of the square, as it's expressed through the many kinds of people who are either living there or spend all their time there, and she waits to get a sighting of her own. To say more than that is giving away too much."

Why Bellevue Square?

"I chose Kensington Market and I chose, in particular, Bellevue Square for two reasons. One is that one morning in 2010, after I had just come home from two years in France, I was sitting in the spot that Jean Mason sits in for a lot of the novel and my mind was empty. I wasn't sure what I was going to work on next and I don't know why the idea came to me there, but one aspect of the ecology of the square attracted me immediately. It's a strange crossroads in Toronto. It's a public space that every imaginable person passes through. If you wanted to put out a net and capture one of everything, you'd have to do that for only a couple days. [Bellevue Square] is a space that has a very layered consciousness, with layered voices, culture and history under foot."

Michael Redhill's comments have been edited and condensed.