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The Bellwether Revivals Hardcover – Mar 20 2012


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Review

“Benjamin Wood's debut novel, The Bellwether Revivals, draws readers in, much as Eden's organ draws Oscar, a young nursing-home care assistant, into King's College Chapel, at Cambridge. It doesn't matter that Oscar is an atheist. Before he knows it, he's sat through an entire service – just as the reader has stayed up all night, seduced by Wood's vivid prose, swept up in a crescendo of suspense. . . .”
Globe and Mail

“This meaty and satisfying psychological thriller is an impressive literary debut. . . . Wood finds a way to keep [his plot] fresh and interesting, even as much of the action unfolds in an old and ominous estate. . . . Wood also powerfully conveys the transformational qualities of music, essential to fully realizing Eden's character. . . . An entertaining read.”
Winnipeg Free Press
 
 “The text hints at the plot lines and stylistic whirls of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and W. Somerset Maugham’s The Magician and other memorable British fiction from the first half of the last century.  . . . [Wood] can write lovely prose and is able to maintain a page-turning narrative pace.”
Toronto Star

“Wood creates intriguing characters and situations that are difficult to resist. The ultimate resolution of this fast-paced novel is equally mesmerizing.”
Chatelaine
 
 “When Wood allows Oscar, the voice of the novel, to wander the history-saturated city [of Cambridge] the novel soars. . . . Cambridge itself is the antagonist and allurement of subtlest force in Oscar’s life, and the stellar character of The Bellwether Revivals.”
National Post
 
“Eden Bellwether is one of the most intriguing and disturbing literary characters I've come across -- and he's what makes Benjamin Wood's The Bellwether Revivals such a page-turner. . . . This is a stunner of a debut novel, and Wood creates a palpable sense of dread and foreboding throughout. Though he deals with weighty subjects such as the religion vs science debate, psychology, and the power of music, the plot never suffers, moving along at a brisk pace.”
—CityTV (citytv.com Friday bookclub)
 
“Accomplished, atmospheric, and suspenseful . . . . Wood’s prose attains the high level of craft we expect from literary novels.”
Quill & Quire
 
“It’s impossible not to think of Donna Tartt when you read Benjamin Wood’s debut novel. . . . The Bellwether Revivals is a very good first novel . . . classically told.”
January magazine
 
“An intellectual and eerie novel . . . part psychological thriller, part philosophical coming-of-age grand saga.”
Vancouver Sun
 
“In this multi-themed and far-reaching novel, the dichotomies of reason and superstition, sanity and madness, science and faith, are given close and sustained attention.”
—The Guardian
 
“A powerful read that explores the conflicts that arise between logic, religion and blind faith.”
The Bookseller
 
 "In prose that's unfussy but effortlessly vivid, filled with nice descriptive flourishes ... Wood's confident, sometimes creepy debut novel draws you in – like the faintly heard strain from that hauntingly played pipe-organ – and then, once you're inside, holds on, ever tightening its grip."
Independent on Sunday
 
“‘Benjamin Wood’s debut is strong on character; a well-moulded cast of individuals help the plot run along fluidly… Finely crafted, well plotted and outwardly readable—a very strong debut indeed.”
We Love This Book (UK)
 
“Well-drawn . . . richly imagined emotion . . . Wood’s confident, sometimes creepy debut novel draws you in—like the faintly heard strain from that hauntingly played pipe-organ—and then, once you’re inside, holds on, ever tightening its grip.”
The Independent (UK)

“A timely examination of the conflict between religion and scepticism. . . . Readers will find themselves transfixed by this richly drawn cast of characters. The fact that Wood can hold his own in such heavyweight company is a measure of his achievement.”
Independent

“Previous authors have explored the proximity of genius to madness, but Wood treats this familiar theme with a freshness and intelligence that hint at greater things to come.”     
TLS
 
"The Bellwether Revivals is a stunningly good debut novel, a thrilling story of music and its hold on a group of young people's minds and lives. Ben Wood writes with vigor, precision and intensity, with a story that will keep readers up all night."
—Steven Galloway, author of Ascension and The Cellist of Sarajevo

The Bellwether Revivals renders the cruelties and frailties of genius with acuity and tenderness, exploring the naïve sophistication of bright young minds, the moral immunity granted to coteries of privilege, and the true nature of mastery in art. Seductive, resonant, and disquieting, Benjamin Wood’s novel captures strains and cadences, qualities of music that are rarely rendered except in sound. Dextrously unsettling and deeply empathetic.” 
—Eleanor Catton, author of The Rehearsal

About the Author

BENJAMIN WOOD was born in 1981 and grew up in northwest England. In 2004, he was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to attend the MFA Creative Writing programme at the University of British Columbia. During his tenure as fiction editor of Canadian literary journal, PRISM international, the publication was awarded the Writers' Trust of Canada/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize. Benjamin's short fiction has appeared in several international journals, and his novel The Bellwether Revivals was shortlisted for the inaugural Dylan Thomas Prize Sony Reader Award for the best unpublished novel. He is a lecturer in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London, where he teaches and develops undergraduate programmes.


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Amazon.com: 24 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Perfectly paced gothic story full of suspense and rich details June 20 2012
By CL - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The Bellwether Revivals is one of the best, most breathtaking books I've read in a while. Full of rich details and perfect pacing for the harrowing conclusion, I pored over each sentence with increasing fascination that such a young author could have such command over his story. Often, I found myself referring back to the short prelude, thinking, "A-ha, now I'm starting to see how the characters got to this very strange place."

The story centers on a group of young college students in England but is told from young Oscar's perspective, an initial outsider to both the group and the college world. He works at what is essentially a nursing home, where he's befriended Dr. Paulson, who is quite a character himself, both witty and ill-tempered. One day, while crossing near King's College, Oscar is drawn into a church by the organ music playing. This is how he meets Iris Bellwether, a girl he soon falls in love with. It is her brother, Eden, who is playing the music - and Oscar soon finds out that Eden is quite the musical genius.

As the story continues, Eden's behavior becomes more erratic, leading Iris to ask for Oscar's help. Eden believes he can heal people with music, and the bizarre things that he experiments with come closer to real danger for everyone involved.

When recommending the book to a friend, I told him that the story involves music theory/hypnosis/healing, the thin line between genius and insanity, psychology, what it feels like to be an outsider, an uncomfortable relationship between siblings, and dead bodies. It might sound a little nuts, but the story draws you in - and the pacing couldn't be better. I could barely stand to put the book down, yet I hated that it had to end. In many ways, it reminded me of Donna Tartt's `The Secret History,' which is a huge compliment since that is one of my favorite books ever. Like `The Secret History,' the story sort of works in reverse; you're given a dramatic scene, and the rest of the book shows you how the characters wound up there. The academic setting, the disturbing, dark tones, and the surprising lengths some of the young characters are willing to go are also reminiscent of Tartt's book. That being said, `The Bellwether Revivals' is wholly its own story, and I can't wait to read Benjamin Wood's next novel.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Review of The Bellwether Revivals May 17 2012
By Lydia - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Every once in a while I'll start to read a book and within just a few minutes, I'll get goosebumps. That happened to me with The Bellwether Revivals - and honestly, I was surprised by it.

First of all - this book is described as a "masterpiece,"; a word that immediately sets me on edge because I feel as if I'm being set up to be disappointed. Secondly - the book centers around music - yet another thing that is bound to disappoint me since very few authors actually take the time to write intelligently about music and throw words around like Chopin and Beethoven like they are the end all/be all of classical music.

But once I began to read I was completely enchanted by the story being told. The beginning is perfect, and I don't want to spoil it by writing about it in detail - but as far as tension and masterful writing goes? It's a 5 out of 5. It sets a gothic tone, is gritty, powerful and made me want to find a corner where I could be sucked into the story and not leave until it was finished. That feeling warred with one that was wanting me to slow down and savor it, like every last bite of a really delicious piece of pie. I didn't want the story to end, yet I craved the ending and every bite along the way.

The Bellwether Revivals is the story of a strange pairing of siblings - academic, rich kids who attend King's College. Into their life comes a man who is employed at, what is essentially, a nursing home. He lacks the education of the set of people the siblings are involved with, yet reads and furthers his own mind outside of the classroom in a way that the rich set only dreams of.

Added to the fantastic richness of the characters is science - specifically psychology. I cannot describe how perfect the pace was for this book, how thrilling and unnerving certain scenes were, and how amazing and fascinating some of the diagnoses were that kept the story flowing.

Benjamin Wood didn't go deeply into musical theory, but he researched enough to pull names into the story that are known well to the academic classical music world, and he wrote with enough detail that the vagueness of what was happening seemed plausible enough.

I cannot describe how much I enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to fans of gothic stories, both new and old.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
An Engaging Debut July 6 2012
By Shanella - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
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]
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Gripping novel about nature of sanity and insanity April 10 2015
By Alan A. Elsner - Published on Amazon.com
This novel fits into but also expands what has become a genre, the coming-of-age Gothic sentimental education novel. In this genre, a small, close-knit group of young people, usually students, welcome a newcomer into their midst. The group is strange in some way, the newcomer "normal" or conventional. They don't quite fit into society and perhaps reject it as too boring and limiting. The newcomer wishes to fit into the group and become part of it because these young people have a mysterious allure; their strangeness and outsider nature gives them a sort of glamor - but the strangeness of the group is also dangerous. They feel themselves to be special and exceptional - but perhaps they are just spoiled, indulged, self-absorbed snobs who need a good dose of reality to bring them down to earth.

In this book, Oscar is a working class nursing aide employed in an old age facility in Cambridge, the location of one of Britain's elite universities, full of upper class toffs and intellectuals. He is part of the city, but not part of the university. He feels drawn to that world, but lacks an entry. One day, on his way home, he is drawn into the chapel at Kings College by the haunting sound of organ music. The musician is the strange Eden Bellwether and Oscar also meets his sister Iris, whom one imagines could grave a Neo-raphaelite portrait. Oscar and Iris become lovers but the charismatic, disturbed presence of Eden hangs over their relationship.

Eden believes his organ music can heal people - from flesh wounds, from advanced brain cancer -- even revive them from death. He is suffering, we learn, from some kind of borderline personality disorder, namely Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). But is this a real disease? Might Eden have true powers? What is his delusion if not hope, a delusion that grips us all as humans?

This book is superbly written and tremendously engrossing. The character of Eden is particularly well-drawn. He does not come off as one-dimensional and the writer even manages to convince us that he may well be the sanest character in the book - up to a point. He manages to infect us, his readers, with the same delusion as his central character . We begin to suspect that he really can perform miracles and we begin to hope that everything will somehow come out OK. And yet, we know that Eden is seriously disturbed and dangerous -- and we glimpse from time to time the real menace and evil that lurks within him.

Next to Eden, Iris and Oscar struggle a little to emerge as full-fleshed-out characters. Oscar is level-headed and basically decent; Iris is talented and sweet but has been exposed too long to her brother. A delicate and sweet love begins to blossom between these two - but can it flourish next to the malign influence of Eden? The other friends in the group never emerge as real characters. They are there to make up the numbers.

This book eventually does reach a shattering climax that one doesn't quite see coming -- and yet realizes is inevitable. A truly absorbing novel.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Whither the bellwether, there go the sheep July 25 2012
By Mary Lavers (in Canada) - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
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.

For more reviews, please visit my blog, CozyLittleBookJournal.

Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from the publisher from NetGalley. I was not obliged to write a favourable review, or even any review at all. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.


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