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The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood

The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Woods is a suspense novel, where the crime is known from the first page, but the events leading up to the death of a number of characters continue to unfold right up to the end of the book.

Do you know what a ‘bellwether’ is? I had heard of the political trend, but when I Googled ‘bellwether’ I learned that a bellwether is also a male sheep – a castrated ram (or wether) who is the alpha male of the flock, on whom shepherds hang a bell so they can easily find their flock. This sounds really obvious once pointed out, but it hadn’t occurred to me.

The story is told by Oscar Lowe, a twenty year old who works as a carer in a nursing home. Oscar meets and falls in love with Iris Bellwether, a cello playing, privileged medical student who attends university. Iris’s brother Eden is the bellwether of Iris’s group of friends. Eden is a charismatic musician, an organist who holds the organ scholarship at King’s College.

As Oscar is drawn deeper into Iris’s circle of friends (or more specifically, Eden’s circle), Eden’s mental health becomes the focus of the story. Eden believes he has the power to heal sick and injured people through a combination of music and hypnotism. Unbeknown to Oscar, Eden, Iris and their friends hypnotise Oscar in an experiment where they skewer his hand with a nail. Oscar is outraged when he realises what has happened, but despite his misgivings he and Iris continue their relationship.

As the story progresses the seriousness of the illnesses of people Eden tries to cure become greater. Iris swings between believing in her brother’s abilities and thinking he is insane. Eden’s theory seems possible and as a reader, I wanted him to perform miracles and cure other characters.

Dr Crest is a psychologist who is dying from a brain tumour. Dr Crest formerly studied and wrote about patients with ‘God Complexes’ and is interested in Eden as a study, but mostly he hopes Eden can perform a miracle for him.

The concept of the ‘God Complex’ is also fascinating. The criteria described for Narcissistic Personality Disorder describes everyone I know, including myself. (Sense of self importance – check, fantasies of unlimited power – check, believe I am special – check, requires excessive admiration – check. I could go on, but you get the idea).

My only real fault with this novel is that I didn’t find Iris and Oscar’s relationship particularly believable. It is a long time since I was 20, but I remember how I felt at that age, and falling in love with someone for me was far more passionate and exciting than Oscar and Iris’s romance. Their attraction to each other was impossible to understand.

Other than Iris and Oscar’s tepid relationship, I found the story interesting and the setting fascinating. The portrayal of Oscar’s friendship with Dr Paulsen, an elderly man who lives in the nursing home where Oscar works felt genuine. All of the characters are very, very clever. In real life, these people would be completely bored with me, but I enjoyed getting to know them and living in their world for a little while without the fear of rejection.

The Bellwether Revivals probably isn’t my ideal book, but that is only because suspense really isn’t my thing. If it is yours though, you will probably enjoy this story enormously.

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