It was less than a year and a half ago that I reviewed Alison Booth’s excellent novel The Painting and her latest novel, Bellevue, has closely followed. It explores a very different aspect of Australian history, but one that continues to emphasise how deeply entangled the past and present can be.
Set in 1972 in the small town of Numbulla nestled in the Blue Mountains, widow and retired teacher Clare Barclay has just inherited the house of Bellevue from her late husband’s aunt. The house has historic importance but also an emotional significance for Clare, once serving as a retreat for herself and her young daughter upon the accidental death of her beloved husband Jack. Now on her own as an empty-nester, Clare discovers a new purpose in restoring the house and its gardens to its former splendour.
Bellevue has been a safe place in the past, Clare reminded herself again. It would be a safe place in the future too…
However, Clare’s return to Bellevue stirs up past events that she thought she had reconciled with – namely the discovery upon her husband’s death that he had taken out a second mortgage on their home – money that she cannot track down and that caused the loss of her family home. The move back to Numbulla brings Clare closer to discovering the truth, as she remembers a box of papers stored for many years at Bellevue that may hold the answer.
The truth was that, once the house and Wombat Valley property had been sold to pay off all the debts, she hadn’t wanted to uncover more of the past.
As Clare begins her new life in Numbulla, tensions soon arise within the community between those motivated by progress and profit through the subdivision of the area to build more homes, and those who value conservation and protecting the vulnerable and magnificent wilderness. Clare finds herself in the middle of this conflict, determined to hold on to Bellevue, and resisting the increasingly threatening attempts to compel her to sell up.
Clare’s past and her present converge and as events progress, the reader comes closer to discovering the truth behind her husband’s deception and how it relates to her current struggles to hold on to her property.
Having read, reviewed and enjoyed Booth’s excellent The Painting, I was happy to get the opportunity to read her latest. In Bellevue, Booth develops a range of convincing minor characters who populate Numbulla and it surrounds, very effectively creating that small town atmosphere where everyone is known, and individuals are subject to the scrutiny of their neighbours. As Clare interacts with each of these characters, the reader cannot help but question whether they might be involved in the attempts to coerce her into selling Bellevue.
My only quibble is that I wish the main character of Clare had a larger role with the resolution of the novel.. Given that Clare’s property is the focus of the story, I wanted her to have a stronger hand in exposing the corruption at work within the town. Nevertheless, there is a sense of resolution to Clare’s story, as she has the difficult task of discerning who her real allies are. Her interactions with her brother-in-law, David, are particularly tense and compelling.
While Clare is the main character of the novel, Booth splits the narration with another character, a young boy Joe, who eventually develops a close bond with Clare. This adds variety to the novel and Joe is really the most compelling and sympathetic character in the novel; he has lost his mother to cancer, his father struggles with alcoholism and he is bullied by the local kids. One of Joe’s ways to temporarily escape his circumstances is through watching and sketching birds, using an old building on the Bellevue property. Clare provides the nurturing that Joe so desperately needs, and in return he fills a gap in her own life. This aspect of the narrative explores vulnerability and loss, and how companionship can have a healing effect.
Those cohorts of children whose faces blended into one another. Only a few remained distinct: the smartest kids and the most difficult. Joe was different. He was a boy she could love like a grandson.
Readers will find this an engaging and rewarding novel that offers a clear warning to readers that we must be willing to fight corruption and greed to preserve those places that are most precious to us.
Note – Bellevue will be released on 16 March 2023. Author Alison Booth provided a pre-publication copy of Bellevue in return for an independent review. For more information, see Booth’s website.
Why no kindle version?
Hi Shirley, sorry for the late reply. I am trying to get an answer for you. I believe Apple have an e-book of Bellevue available. I am trying to find out when Amazon will be releasing the Kindle version. Will let you know as soon as I can.