When the publisher approached me about reviewing and hosting a giveaway for The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood, I loved the concept for the novel. Here was a story that involved the potential healing elements of music along with a psychological thriller. Add in sibling rivalry, hypnosis, and romantic interest, all in the rarified gothic atmosphere of Cambridge, and I couldn’t say no. And to make it even better, one lucky reader will win a hardback copy of their own!
Twenty-year-old Oscar Lowe grew up in a lower class English urban neighborhood. He worked hard to get out of there and now is happy with his job as a care assistant at the beautifully appointed Cedarbrook Nursing Home in Cambridge. He takes great pride in his work and in helping ease the lives of the home’s residents.
He’s become good friends with one of the more reclusive and cantankerous residents, Dr. Paulsen, who used to be a professor at Kings College. Dr. Paulsen even lends Oscar books from his prized collection to read. Because of Dr. Paulsen’s generosity, Oscar has read almost all of the classics as well as academic tomes on almost every subject.
One night as Oscar passes Kings College on his way to his flat, he’s drawn to the chapel because of ethereal music he hears coming from it during evensong. He steps inside and listens spellbound to the organ, to what he feels is the most beautiful music he’s ever heard. He also can’t take his eyes off of an ethereal looking girl sitting there.
“There was a fragility to this music, as if the organist wasn’t pressing down on the keys but hovering his fingers above them like a puppeteer. Oscar stopped in the entrance just to listen…before he knew it his feet had carried him all the way inside.”
“By the time he noticed the blonde girl a few spaces along his pew, the congregation had reached…She was mouthing the words grudgingly, the way a bored child recites times tables, and, when she saw that he wasn’t joining in the prayer, gave a slow roll of her eyes, as if to say: ‘Get me out of here.’ The simple profile of her face excited him. He smiled at her but wasn’t sure she noticed.”
After the service, Oscar can’t believe his good fortune when he strikes up a conversation with the girl who fascinated him, Iris Bellwether. As they talk he learns the talented organist is her brother, Eden. Both of the Bellwethers attend Kings College, Iris in pre-med and Eden, of course, in music.
Although it’s clear that they come from two very different worlds, Oscar is strongly drawn to Iris and is fascinated by Eden’s talent so he accepts an invitation to come back to their house. He quickly feels like a fish out of water among the wealthy Bellwethers and their equally rich long-time college friends, although everyone tries to make him feel at ease. It’s clear these are people who’ve known each other forever. They all seem to revolve around and cater to the musical brilliance and magnetic personality of Eden.
Eden is obsessed with Johann Mattheson, an 18th century German music theorist and composer who was a friend of Handel’s. Mattheson believed music had healing elements to it. Because of experiences he has had, Eden is convinced those theories are correct and is determined to prove it.
“’Mattheson and Descartes go together like cheese and wine,’ Eden went on. ‘I’ve really become quite enraptured with the man’s ideas. I’ve read everything he’s written, everything there is to read about him – diary extracts, letters, postcards – anything I could get my hands on.’”
Oscar and Iris quickly become virtually inseparable, falling in love as if it were destiny. This causes Oscar to be drawn farther into the world of the eccentric Bellwether siblings and their friends. One day Iris confides to him that she believes there’s something very wrong with Eden but she can’t get anyone to take her seriously. Everyone else is blinded by his charm. She’s afraid Eden could become a danger to himself or others if one of his mad schemes gets out of hand.
They devise a plan to document Eden’s odd behavior, so Oscar can present documentation to a famous psychologist friend of Dr. Paulsen’s, Dr. Herbert Cress. That’s when things begin to get really bizarre, with eventually even the good doctor appearing to be drawn under Eden’s influence. Why is Iris so convinced that the Eden everyone else sees isn’t the real Eden? Is Eden a genius or is he insane? Can he or anyone for that matter really heal physical ailments with music?
All of the characters in The Bellwether Revivals are beautifully drawn and have a lot of depth to them. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite. I probably loved Oscar, Iris and Dr. Paulsen the most. I’m not going to say how I felt about Eden or Dr. Cress to avoid providing spoilers. The three Bellwether friends introduced in the book are a great bunch who I felt added a lot of perspective to the main thread.
I’m always blown away when an author’s debut novel is excellent. The Bellwether Revivals is no exception. It’s dark, gothic feel grabbed me on the first page and I was completely hooked. I really didn’t want to put it down at night because I had to find out what was going to happen next. The relationship between Eden and Iris was so complex that I had to find out which of the two was the crazy one, because I had no doubt that one of them had to be. But which one? I could not read fast enough or long enough to finish this novel in one sitting but I certainly tried. Needless to say, this is a novel I highly recommend! Enter to win a hardback copy below!
Can’t wait to read it?
The Bellwether Revivals was published on June 14, 2012, so it should be available from your favorite bookseller below. Just click the button to go there to get it.
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One lucky reader will win a hardback copy of The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood!
1) The deadline for entries is Saturday night, 7/14/2012, at 11:59pm EDST. No entries after that date/time will be eligible.
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