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VINE VOICEon 7 June 2017
Very readable, well-written and interesting page-turner, set on the fringes of Cambridge University. It builds on the classic trope of the high society world observed by the outsider who never really belongs, as happened in Gatsby, Brideshead and Donna Tartt's Secret History.

But while the book kept me gripped, something just didn't quite ring true for me. It felt like a narrative caged in by the psychological concept that Wood wanted to explore, and so became increasingly unreal. Hence only 3*, because it always felt almost great.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 19 November 2013
`Benjamin Wood was awarded a scholarship to attend the MFA Creative Writing Programme at the University of British Columbia, Canada.' That could be the explanation for his sometimes unusual use of language that just doesn't go with the essential Englishness of this sparkling novel. No one I know says `courthouse', or smokes `cloves'. I looked them up, they are pseudo cigarettes, half cloves and half tobacco, as dangerous to health as a normal smoke. Not that the particular smoker here needed to worry about the long-term effects of that...

Such strange subject matter as healing hypnosis augmented by powerful music seems wacky and original, so yes the premise was attractive and beguiling, I did even begin to wonder if it might be possible. Eden Bellwether is one of those one off's; clearly talented, hugely indulged, fierce, odd, and randomly bonkers. A wild and unpredictable young man who truthfully everyone should steer well clear of. Possessive to the `nth degree of his fey and floaty med student sister Iris he just radiates obsession. Surrounded by a `flock', a clique of cardboard characters who act as a chorus, he manipulates and plays with people, mostly under the guise of his imagining he can help them. Only to prove his own extraordinary powers of course, not for altruistic reasons. Supported by substantial family wealth and elitist background; his random acts of wildly over confident, determined, maniacal behaviour can flourish and develop dreadfully. All to the soundtrack of sacred music, so thickly referenced and described, you can almost hear it.

Into all this drifts more ordinary Oscar Lowe, a thoroughly good sort who is enchanted by organ music coming from a college chapel. He falls head over heels for Iris and becomes her knight in shining white care worker overalls. This is the hook that keeps you reading really, he is a man we can understand and relate to, one who stubbornly holds on to what he believes to be right. His relationship with one of his elderly charges is rewarding and encouraging although the byways of that thread become tangled with the arrival of his mentor's old boyfriend, Herbert Guest, whose departure from the scene was shrouded in 1930's scandal, one which is far from satisfactorily explained.

Opening with the end, just no clue as to whom the worst has happened to or why, the story grows and builds, rising to a creaking crescendo that leaves you gasping for air, rather like Eden B... Altogether a stirring story that overrides the slightly jarring writerly quirks. "Raining canteloupes", "Sweet as molasses"...mutter mutter!
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on 26 April 2017
Cracking story. Love s of mystery and some tension. Well written
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VINE VOICEon 4 August 2012
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 and his relationship with Iris very sweetly portrayed. However, I am not sure that he would be so happily accepted by the tight clique surrounding the Bellwether siblings. Would they really want to become friends with a lad who worked in a care home, regardless of how much wisteria was hanging off it?

The character of Eden is compelling and terrifying, and I did want to find out how far he would go with his use of hypnotism as medicine. The other minor characters were not so well-defined, and mere background.

I did expect more from the sub-plot of Herbert Crest and Dr. Paulsen. I thought there was going to be some huge mystery revealed in the end, but that turned out to be a bit of a damp squib.

While I enjoyed the delightful setting of Cambridge, I did find a couple of points very irritating, and I am surprised that Mr Wood's editor (or his mother) did not spot them. In one chapter the young lovelies decide to go to St. John's May Ball, making this decision a couple of weeks before the event. Tickets for the top balls are always sold out months in advance, there is no way they could all have got tickets at that point in the year. Also, there is a reference to Herbert Crest having been sentenced to 'community service' in the 1960s!! You were sent to JAIL, than, full stop. (You could still be hanged!)

Overall, though, this is a good read, with some beautifully observed moments. I would definitely read his next book.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 31 January 2012
I was drawn to this like a moth to the light - I can't resist novels set in academic environments with quirky, over-privileged characters who I'd be tempted to throttle in real life. It's always a bonus if this elite group assimilates someone from a lower class, hoping to mould him in their own image. Brideshead Revisited and The Secret History rank amongst my all-time favourite reads so The Bellwether Revivals should be a shoo-in....but is it strong enough to forge its own path or is it just a readable homage?

I'm delighted to report that The Bellwether Revivals is a very distinctive, debut novel with its own identity and power. Oscar Lowe, a young Care Assistant, finds himself drawn into another world when he meets and becomes romantically involved with Iris Bellwether, an undergraduate at Cambridge. It is the hypnotic organ playing of Iris's enigmatic brother Eden which draws Oscar into a church and acts as the catalyst for a series of disturbing events.

The characterisation is superb - you feel like you're right beside Oscar, meeting Eden for the first time, being magnetically drawn to this rangy, curly haired, eccentric/mad creature who thinks he can heal via the medium of music. Eden's friends and family feel compelled to protect him but is he merely a tad idiosyncratic or a real danger to himself and others? Iris is torn between loyalty to her brother and her burgeoning romance with Oscar. Mater and Pater live in splendid isolation, with only a vague interest in their children, as long as their grades are good.

From the very first page I was drawn into the compelling and, at times, unnerving world of the Bellwethers. The opening will hook you as we begin with an ending and you really have to find out how we get there. An excellent debut novel which will appeal to fans of Brideshead, The Secret History and The Lessons by Naomi Alderman. I can't wait to see what this talented author comes out with next.
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on 20 June 2013
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, this time, not a student from humbler background, but a care assistant (not even a qualified nurse) working in an nursing home, effectively wiping bottoms.

And lured by the inexplicable power of music, our hero, Oscar, who is fact is something of an auto-didact, eagerly devouring the books lent to him by a dying resident, previously a college professor, infiltrates our charmed set of glittering undergraduates. More, he falls in love with, and is fallen in love with, in turn, by the medical student sister of the other central character, the dark star, to Oscar's good and kindly light, Eden Bellwether, musician, composer, thaumaturge and possible sufferer of a personality disorder.

The book starts with death - possibly 2, possibly 3 - all this is evident from the very first page, so not a spoiler, and the journey of the book is to get to that place, and beyond it, forward.

There is much which is interesting around the dialogues between two elderly pedagogues, in their fields, that serves as counterpoint to the unravelling of the mystery that is Eden Bellwether.

The plot is rather good, but, the voices of the characters have little real identity - other than a few rather hackneyed devices to indicate who is speaking - for example, the American gay academic, calling all females honey, and the males, kid. The central female character scattering 'sweetheart' around like candy, the rather irritating juxtaposition of her clove scented cigarettes to the immediate 'clove' - she smokes a clove. No, sorry to be pedantic, she smokes a cigarette. Eden and Iris Bellweather's self-absorbed privileged parents did not seem in any way credible; the set of undergraduate friends absorbing our hero so completely, did not seem credible.

The plot itself was quite a good one, and the ideas and philosophies were also absorbing, but I struggled to believe in any of the characters at all and kept stumbling over annoying dialogue tics, that just did not seem like a voice (probably because there was not a sure enough sense of character)

However - I did want, despite not enjoying the book, to know 'what happened next' - so there is a story-teller here.
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on 31 December 2012
I am half way through this book already, I bought it as I liked the sound of the plot and the characters. It is a real page turner, looking forward to his next book.
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on 31 March 2013
'The Bellwether Revivials' is the story set in Cambridge in 2003, which has some similarities with Donna Tartt's 'The Secret History' as well as some of the Barbara Vine stories of psychologically disturbed people. It's about a young man from an ordinary working-class background who gets swept up into a close 'flock' of students centering around the disturbed genius and musician, Eden Bellwether.

The themes tackled in this story are fascinating - the relationship between genius and insanity, between faith/hope and scientific reason as well as sibling and parent/child relationships. These topics are woven well into a story with a well-constructed plot. Although there are bodies on the first page (or pages), whose they are and how they came to be there remain a mystery until the closing pages. I particularly enjoyed the author's descriptions of music in the story - it takes a special skill and talent to make music come alive through words.

But I did feel - and this is just a personal view - that I couldn't take the leap of faith (while we are on that subject) to believe wholeheartedly in these characters and their situation. The little factual slip-ups are irritating to someone who knows Cambridge well and I would have noticed these less had other aspects of the characters been more convincing. It's a small point, but I found it most unlikely that working-class parents would name a son born in the early 80s Oscar!

However, these points aside, the novel did have me gripped and the author manages to convey an sense of impending catastrophe while also making the reader think about the nature of hope and faith.
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on 27 August 2013
I don't normally do reviews, but this book infuriated me so much I felt driven to come here and tell the world just how bad it was.

The main issue with the book is that everything in it is overwritten to such a degree it feels like parody. The dialogue is particularly bad for this. It feels incredibly unnatural. I just didn't believe the words that these characters spoke could possibly be coming out of the mouth of a human being. People simply don't speak the way the characters speak in this book.

There's also what I call 'creative writing course' syndrome. The author is constantly referencing other, terribly smart books in order to convince us that he too is terribly smart, and well read. Character's constantly have very academic conversations about books, as if mirroring a class the author had attended.

Finally, I found the class politics of the book nauseating. The main character (whom I've just had to look up the name of he was so unmemorable) Oscar is constantly in awe of the upper class folk in the book. He talks about how his working class upbringing meant that he never discussed the news or important issues around the dinner table, and these upper class folks he's now hanging out with are oh so civilised in comparison. What a load of tosh. Clearly the closest the author has got to any working class people is watching Eastenders.

In summary this book both managed to offend and bore me. Normally I feel bad about making poor judgements of things. I wonder how I would feel if I were an author reading such heavy criticism of my work, and writing a book is a nobel pursuit that should be encouraged. I make an exception in this case. Anything that convinces Ben Wood he is an author is simply feeding the man's delusion. The kind thing to do here is to get him to stop.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 3 February 2014
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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