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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable hokum, which disappoints in the end
At the start of the book you are told what happens at the end. The book, therefore, must explain how events led to that end. This device means that there is a sense of foreboding which pervades the narrative quite effectively. You know something bad's going to happen, let's put it that way!

The character of Oscar is endearingly likeable, his life at The Cedars...
Published on 4 Aug 2012 by L. Bretherton

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting ideas, and generally absorbing plot; characters and dialogue don't ring true
The Bellwether Revivals is one of a slew of others, set around the hallowed halls of elite learning - whether Oxbridge, or the States. I suppose Donna Tartt's The Secret History is the one which started the popularity of the genre off, and the one they are all hoping to emulate.

Here we have the same sort of scenario - a privileged set, and a lowly outsider,...
Published 15 months ago by Lady Fancifull


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Do Not Resuscitate, 13 Mar 2013
By 
G. Anderton - See all my reviews
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The reality of this book falls short of the conception on a lot of levels, is my feeling. The writer has a tin ear for dialogue - who talks like this in real life? - and this contributes to the way in which the characters fail to convince. The central group of young people seems implausible - what's their motivation for belonging? We are asked (or, rather, expected) to believe this is because Eden Bellwether is so charismatic and compelling in his role as proto-cult-leader, but on the page he is just annoying, rude and an obvious nutter, lacking in any of the charm that might make the master/disciples dynamic credible.

There's no point in my rehashing what other reviewers have said about the late availability of May Ball tickets and suchlike instances of dubious factual accuracy. By far the most irritating aspect of the text is the writer's use of what he would appear to think are novel and arresting lexical choices - at one point Iris thakes a "gentle" sip of water - that just don't work at all. There are load of these; that's just one example I can call to mind just now. It's a try-hard strategy that does not come off. Having, presumably, been aiming for original and striking, it just ends up sounding as if English isn't his first language.

The effect of all this is that, finally, if you don't believe in the characters you don't care about what happens to them. So I didn't.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars starts well, fails to develop, needs an editor, 1 Mar 2013
I possibly wouldn't have expected so much of this book if it hadn't been shortlisted for big prizes (at least according to the local library). I was hooked by the beginning, but the story just couldn't deliver. I had the impression Benjamin Wood, the author, couldn't make up his mind if he was writing a page turner or a literary work. In the end he went for literary, leaving many plotlines which could have been great, unexplored. Pity

The viewpoint character, Oscar, lacks charisma, and his inclusion in the group of beautiful people is never really explained. At first I thought it was because they wanted access through him (he works in a care home) to an unlimited supply old people desperate for healing, but this was not really followed up. Eden - the brother - is interesting, but other characters are sketched.

Although Benjamin Wood must be a good writer judging by his CV, I found the writing patchy. He could have done with an editor - grammar was not always accurate (he uses 'like' instead of 'as if' repeatedly), and I several times I found myself wondering if you could really use that word in that context.

As others have commented, there were too many instances of poor research/background knowledge - for example, the author works so hard to make us believe in this highly privileged and very educated family - then tells us - without any reason I could see - that the parents understood no French - hardly likely if they'd really been through public school and top universities. Nit picking? Yes if it was only once, but there are too many examples of this sort of oversight. I agree with others that the plot could have been much more intriguing - if it had been, I know would have been inclined to forgive these small errors.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read, 25 Feb 2013
By 
P. C. Langman "dracoustic" (sheffield) - See all my reviews
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I find a lot of the criticisms of this book utterly pedantic...it's fiction for heaven's sake. The narrative is good enought to carry the reader along and there are some intriguing characters.Maybe the plot is over ambitious but, like very good novels, it does succeed in creating an air of menace. It's not in the same class as, say, Donna Tart's Secret History as far as Uni based novels are concerned, but it's certainly one of the best first novels I've read for years.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written book - ultimately disappointing, 2 Jan 2013
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This review is from: The Bellwether Revivals (Kindle Edition)
I read this book because it was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel award so was expecting a good read. It is a book that draws you in, makes you interested in the characters and builds up the tension wonderfully. On that basis, I would definitely recommend it. However, like some other reviewers, I found it ultimately disappointing. There were several threads that didn't go anywhere and I kept flicking through the last few pages to see if I had missed something.
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4.0 out of 5 stars This was read by my book group and we had one of our best discussions so far, 25 July 2014
By 
Mrs. Judith Worham (England) - See all my reviews
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A truly remarkable first novel. This was read by my book group and we had one of our best discussions so far. The book focusses on Cambridge with its elite and claustrophobic clique all focussed on the brilliant but deluded character called Eden. Oscar the outsider is plausible, likeable and the voice the reader comes to trust. His love affair with Eden's sister Iris which draws him into the group is tenderly written but also focusses on the problems that their differing status and attitudes create. Oscar's relationship with Dr. Paulsen as his care assistant is particularly well drawn. There are many references to music which pervades the narrative and its inclusion is skilfully described. The suspense is maintained from the opening to the end. The only criticism is its length; it could have been shorter and delivered the same punch.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great idea, average book, 29 Jun 2012
Everything about this book promised a fantastic read - great cover, interesting title, intriguing synopsis, but it doesn't quite deliver.

Lead character, Oscar Lowe is a working class care assistant in a nursing home. A chance meeting with an attractive Cambridge student throws him into the strange world of the wealthy Bellwether family but ultimately leads to tragedy.

Although Oscar is a well defined, believable and likeable character, some others in the book are more stereotyped and unappealing, especially members of the Bellwether family, which made it difficult to care what happened next. Oscar's easy acceptance into the group of upperclass Cambridge academics was hard to believe and the failure of the characters to challenge it was a major plot flaw which badly affected the credibility of the story. Revealing key aspects of the ending at the start was presumably meant to intrigue the reader but in this case left me feeling disappointed I already knew what was going to happen in the end.

A creative plot idea but ultimately an unsatisfying read.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining but pretentious, 23 July 2014
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An elegantly written page turner, but ultimately a cliched bit of fluff dressed up as literature. Wood plants lots of mines that never explode. Someone like Patrick Gale would have pulled all the threads together at the end, but Wood clearly didn't know how to, so opted for plan B - yup, a double murder! Why were the group so fascinated by Oscar's job? Why the pristine 1st editions of Crest's works in Eden's wardrobe? You're convinced Wood is going to pull something out of the hat - some great scheme or plot, but all the leads just fizzle out. And it's full of other random quirks: I have never heard anyone in the UK refer to cigarettes as 'cloves'; why were the group so fascinated by Wisteria?; two highly educated people worried that they don't speak enough french to buy a house in France (really?); etc etc....Not bad. 6/10/
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A promising novel spoilt by careless errors, 29 May 2012
By 
K. M. Long Esq (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Bellwether Revivals (Kindle Edition)
If I were writing a novel which more or less opened with a description of Evensong at King's College Chapel I think I might take the precaution of going to Evensong at King's College Chapel to see what it was like. Evidently Benjamin Wood felt such basic research was unnecessary: indeed, to judge from the number of errors in this scene alone I rather doubt that he has ever been to Evensong in any college chapel or cathedral. So the book got off to a very rocky start; and this was by no means the only example in the book of errors which grate. For instance, the characters decide at one point to go to the May Ball at St John's College at about two weeks' notice, whereas in reality even the least fashionable May Balls (and St John's is one of the most fashionable) are fully booked months in advance, and rarely open to anyone outside the college. And Mr Wood's knowledge of the legal system seems sketchy (for instance, there was no such thing as a community service order in 1966).

Which is a shame, because underneath all these errors there is a more than half-decent novel trying to get out. A number of the characters are admittedly a little one-dimensional, but there is real energy in the story-telling and a genuine attempt to wrestle with the collision of genius and delusion, between hope and fatalism, between love and fear. The plot is somewhat over the top, but that can I think be excused in the context. (A pity, though, that the author succumbs to the fashionable device of opening the book with a scene from somewhere near the end of the action, which dissipates the tension rather than increasing it.) I would like to read more by this author, although I do urge him to do more research first.

In short, a good try, but you will find it irritating if you know much about music, or Cambridge, or music at Cambridge. Which for a book which is at least partly about music, and Cambridge, and music at Cambridge is quite a serious flaw.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Tries to Be Too Clever, 3 Feb 2014
By 
Kate Hopkins (London) - See all my reviews
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The British Campus novel (specifically the Oxbridge one) is getting awfully repetitive: too many are on the theme of 'innocent or naive poor boy/girl gets corrupted or damaged by rich elite'. Benjamin Woods's first novel explores this theme in detail, along with some rather more original material about personality disorders. Oscar Lowe, a care assistant in an old people's home, attends a King's College Evensong one evening on a whim, and meets beautiful Iris Bellwether, a second year medical student and (surprise, surprise), daughter of fabulously wealthy parents. Iris in turn introduces Oscar to her brother Eden, organ scholar of King's College. Over the next few weeks, Oscar and Iris fall in love, and Iris introduces him to her inner circle, which, apart from Eden, consists of the siblings' three closest friends from public school, Yin, Marcus and Jane. Oscar is introduced to a world of culture and privilege that he (although book-loving) barely knew existed. But trouble is afoot, for the musically-talented Eden also believes he has magical healing powers, and practises strange sessions of musical healing and laying-on of hands. Iris is worried that her brother is going mad, and recruits Oscar to try to help him get treatment. However, she is shaken when Eden appears to be able to heal her broken leg through playing her some of his stranger compositions and placing warm towels on it. Is Eden a genuine healer? Oscar is not convinced - and grows even more worried when Eden tries to heal a brain tumour (ironically the sufferer is a neuroscientist who is secretly observing Eden to determine whether or not he is mad - or a fraud). Will Eden triumph or will his actions have terrible, and even terminal consequences?

I was somewhat baffled as to why Benjamin Woods chose to set his novel among Cambridge students and write about classical musicians as he appears to have only a limited interest in (and perhaps knowledge of) both. I know this is fiction, but if you set a novel in a real place with people in real-life roles you expect a reasonable degree of accuracy. The description of the Evensong at the start shows that Mr Wood has either not attended a Cambridge Evensong or forgotten what one was like in between attending and writing. His description of Organ Scholars is all wrong - you're elected for three years, not for one year as a first year or for one year as a third year, there are two organ scholars at King's as well as the Director, and the description of Eden's chamber organ voluntary was all wrong in terms of space in the chapel and what an organ scholar would do at the end of a service. The references to music (apart from the sections on Mattheson who, my partner (a musicologist) assures me was not nearly so much as a crank as Woods makes out) were skimpy, and relied on the usual cliches - Eden likes Schumann because he's also mentally disturbed, and the Romantics because of his wild spirit etc. I don't think any medical hypnotist would play their patients Mattheson - are there even easily-available recordings of his works? Other errors included Iris performing Faure's 'Elegie' with a chamber group (it's a piece either for cello and piano or for cello and orchestra) - and Mr Woods appears to have some strange ideas about the Music Tripos and the demands of the position of an Organ Scholar - Eden simply would not have had the time as a third year to keep popping back to his parents' house in Granchester to practise healing sessions, as the third year of Music at Cambridge is very demanding (as I know from having studied music at Cambridge). Mind you, none of the students seemed to have to work much (apart from a bit of panicking about exams), which was also unrealistic. I ended up feeling that Mr Woods would have done much better to stick to his original plan of having Eden as a charismatic folk singer. Another element I felt didn't work was Woods's portrayal of the working-class (Oscar's family) and the upper-class (the Bellwethers). Oscar's family, in that they appeared at all, were shallowly and patronizingly depicted - I don't think many working-class parents would constantly criticize their son for reading or doing well at school, and Mr Woods never fully explained where Oscar got his love of literature from. The Bellwethers were caricatured to the point of absurdity, as to a large degree were Eden and Iris's circle of friends - I loved the description of the father spending several thousand pounds on a bottle of brandy, and Yin emerging from the wine cellar at Eden's parents' house exclaiming - 'Just dropped the Chateau Lafitte', to which Eden responds 'Don't worry, he'll never notice' - rich people are actually usually much warier of wasting money than those less well-off. The whole thing about the parent Bellwethers moving to France without speaking the language was odd - surely these very well-educated people would have known some French. I couldn't work out whether Wood was trying to write a satire with these characters or not, as they seemed quite parodic. I also didn't believe in the final section of the book, particularly how the character of Eden evolved

These all sound quite harsh criticisms - however, there were some things I did enjoy about the book. I liked the descriptions of Cambridge (though why was everyone so obsessed with wisteria?), the tenderness of the relationship between Oscar and Iris (even if both remained a bit one-dimensional), the relationship between Oscar and the old English professor at the care home and some of the discussion about personality disorders. And it's an engaging read in certain ways - however many inaccuracies I found and however shallow I found most of the characters, I did want to read on to find what happened to them. But in the end, I didn't feel it hung together, and felt that Mr Woods was more interested in writing a clever plot and getting in a lot of references to books that he'd studied than in creating believable characters and situations. I was also found the author's hostile comments about Cambridge University in the author interview inaccurate, and the portrayal of the university as a place dominated by the upper-classes was certainly untrue. Interesting in parts, but I can't say I enjoyed it all that much.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting idea and a good read despite some flaws, 24 Nov 2013
By 
BookWorm "BookWorm" (UK) - See all my reviews
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'The Bellwether Revivals' opens with that classic literary set up - three bodies have been found in mysterious circumstances - and then the narrative goes back a year to narrate the story of who they are, and how they came to die. It's a technique that can be annoying, as it effectively 'spoils' the ending - but in this case I think it worked well. It added to the sense of urgency as I read and it's vague enough for you to have lots to wonder about as you read. In fact, I think my interest in the bulk of the book was increased by knowing there would be a dramatic payoff at the end. Wood also employs another tried and tested method by employing an everyman protagonist that the reader can 'follow' into a closed world. In this case, the story follows Oscar, a working class lad employed in a care home but with cautious ambitions towards academia. A chance meeting leads him into the tight circle of charismatic genius Eden Bellwether and his family and friends. By focussing on Oscar, the reader can more easily navigate a novel depicting a lifestyle far beyond the reach of many people.

Comparisons have been made with Donna Tartt's 'The Secret History', and there are certainly some similarities. However do not be fooled into thinking this is a copycat, as it's actually a very different story. It's also more than a simple coming of age tale, despite it's youthful characters and the university setting. Wood takes some fairly complicated concepts - about philosophy, psychology, science and music - as the basis for the narrative. Some sections are harder to read than others, requiring a fair degree of concentration to get your head round especially if you're not familiar with them. There's nothing here that's overly difficult to grasp, but it's not an easy read. The actual writing itself is good quality and the pace is reasonable, a little slow in parts, but very compelling indeed towards the end. There's a modern gothic, uneasy atmosphere conjured up, that did remind me of Tartt's novel (which by the way, is a good read and you'd certainly enjoy if you like this).

There are some interesting and complex characters here, with a decently fleshed out supporting cast. Oscar is a likeable central character and one that can be identified with, whilst managing to have a depth of his own - sometimes 'everyman' protagonists are rather bland, there to act as a foil for the real hero. The other characters are much harder to warm to or feel an affinity with. I didn't find either the Bellwether parents or Oscar's own parents very believable. I have more experience of the working class end of the social scale, and Oscar's parents are not plausible to me - at least not without more explanation. I didn't recognise them from people with a very similar background that I grew up with. Their utter lack of aspiration and disinterested attitude towards Oscar, his future and his education was at odds with his father's apparent career as a self-employed builder. It actually feels a bit offensive, as though the author has randomly picked what he considers to be a 'working class' job and then shoved onto the luckless characters all of what he perceives to be the attitudes of people living on council estates. Whilst there are some people with these attitudes (living in all sorts of places too), it's hardly representative and I found it very unlikely that a man able to run his own business in a skilled trade would be so unenlightened. It could have been better played by having him disappointed that Oscar did not want to follow in his footsteps and take over the business from him, and maybe that was the case, but it didn't come across like that. Likewise the Bellwether parents felt just a bit too extreme - yes I know there are very posh people who talk and behave a bit like this, but the Bellwethers felt like caricatures from am unfunny sit-com sketch 'rich girl brings home working class boyfriend'.

My doubts about some of the characterisation - and the amount of coincidence - are compensated mostly by the good quality of the plot, which is original and not predictable even though we know roughly how its going to end. The storylines encompass some big themes, such as the conflict between belief and logic, the effectiveness of alternative medicine, and the boundary between genius and madness. There is enough drama to keep it exciting and although there are some chunks of background explanatory stuff about the theories, Wood tries to use dialogue and action as much as possible. I did skim some of the longer sections on Descartes and Mattheson and their theories, which could possibly have been cut down a bit or paraphrased, but given the sort of book it was, Wood was quite restrained compared to some authors.

Overall, it's a well written psychological thriller with some interesting ideas and some good characters. It's not without faults, but nothing that really prevented me enjoying it - hence the four star rating. Fans of gothic and atmospheric style novels will like it, as will psychological thriller fans and those with a general interest in literary fiction. It isn't light reading - not one for the beach - but don't let that put you off as it isn't heavy going either.
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The Bellwether Revivals
The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood
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