After reading Alison Booth’s last book The Painting and absolutely loving it, I jumped at the chance to read Bellevue, her latest novel.
Bellevue was another fantastic read for me, while it took a couple of chapters to draw me in, once there I didn’t want to put it down. Set in the Blue Mountains in NSW in the early 1970s the author really manages to capture both the time period and the place in her writing.
The story is told mainly from Clare’s perspective but we also get a young boy Joe’s perspective interspersed between chapters and I really enjoyed this because it enabled me to glimpse a different aspect of both Clare and the town and its people.
Clare hasn’t had the easiest of lives and we are taken back in Clare’s memories to the early 1950s when she meets her husband Jack, to his death and the secrets he has kept from her and the loss of their property due to those secrets, some of which are only fully uncovered in the later part of this story.
Clare has been left Bellevue by Jack’s Aunt Hilda who came to Clare’s aid when she first lost everything and has continued to be there for her ever since. Remembering how happy she was there with her young daughter, who is now an adult travelling in Europe, she decides to retire and live in Bellevue whilst doing it up.
Things are never simple though and while Clare finds some wonderful people who inhabit the town, she also finds a few not-so-nice ones who are determined to cause her trouble because they want to buy her property for a new development.
This was a time when people were starting to stand up to developers and the government in order to save the land, cultural heritage sites and historical sites, from their greed. When they decide to try and intimidate Clare into selling, they had no idea the fight that would bring them. Clare was part of a big push to save the bushland where she previously lived and she is pushed to take up this newest fight to save not only her property but the town and the surrounding area from being developed and destroyed.
Clare uncovers corruption and greed that bring with it answers to secrets from her past. There were so many twists and turns and mystery and intrigue, and there were times I didn’t know who to trust or believe, who was Clare’s friend and who wasn’t. The author does a great job of only slowly letting us have small pieces of the puzzle, revealing little character traits, and bits of things overheard or seen, keeping us from seeing the whole picture until the very end.
The friendship that Clare forms with young Joe, a boy who has lost his mother and whose father has become neglectful and somewhat abusive, turns out to have a big impact on both their lives. I loved seeing how they each helped each other, Clare proving a safe place for Joe to hang out, a nurturing grandmother figure for him to give and receive affection from, something they are both lacking. And in turn, Joe helps to thaw some of the pain and hardness that Clare has been carrying and which Joe sees in Clare the first time he glimpses her leaving a garden party.
This isn’t a fast-moving story, though the second half moves along faster than the first, instead, it is a slow-burn read as we get to know the town and its characters, learn about Clare and her past and her dreams for the future. It is a look at family and its often messed up relationships, it is a reminder of how fragile our environment is and the need for everyone to stand up and protect it if we want any of nature or our history to survive the greed that is prevalent even more today. It is a look at grief and the effect it can have on those around us and the baggage we carry with us that can affect so much of how we live our lives. It is about friendship in its many forms and about healing from our pasts and letting go of the baggage we are carrying.
I really enjoyed this novel and I can’t wait to see what Alison Booth delivers next.
Alison Booth has written an interesting post on the background to writing her newest novel if you are interested in having a read.