Bellman & Black
by Diane Setterfield
published by Random House
I received a digital copy of this as an ARC from the publisher through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
Bellman & Black is a heart-thumpingly perfect ghost story, beautifully and irresistibly written, its ratcheting tension exquisitely calibrated line by line. Its hero is William Bellman, who, as a boy of 11, killed a shiny black rook with a catapult, and who grew up to be someone, his neighbours think, who “could go to the good or the bad.” And indeed, although William Bellman’s life at first seems blessed—he has a happy marriage to a beautiful woman, becomes father to a brood of bright, strong children, and thrives in business—one by one, people around him die. And at each funeral, he is startled to see a strange man in black, smiling at him. At first, the dead are distant relatives, but eventually his own children die, and then his wife, leaving behind only one child, his favourite, Dora. Unhinged by grief, William gets drunk and stumbles to his wife’s fresh grave—and who should be there waiting, but the smiling stranger in black. The stranger has a proposition for William—a mysterious business called “Bellman & Black” . .. (from Goodreads)
I have looked forward to something new by this author for years now (I loved The Thirteenth Tale, which I strongly recommend!), so I was very excited to see she had finally published something new. Unlike some other reviewers, I did not have The Thirteenth Tale fresh in my head, as I read it when it was first published years ago. Therefore, my expectations were not so very high, except that I did look forward to good writing. I was not disappointed. I truly enjoyed this book, but I must admit to liking the first half of the story much more than the second half.
This story might have benefitted from being a short story, or a novella, in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe. If I had known just slightly less of William, and his seemingly blessed life, I would have possibly looked on his downfall with just curiosity. As it was, I found it almost painful to read on as each new tragedy rained down on him and his family. These events left him unbalanced and he continued to change, becoming a different man, more deranged as the years go by. He pays dearly for the mistake of his 11 year old self. As each family member dies, he sees the same man in black at each gravesite. When his last child does not succumb to death, he feels he has made a contract with this mysterious man, and sets about creating Bellman & Black mourning emporium. The part I found the hardest was when he is being fitted for a new waistcoat by by the seamstress he has a connection with in Bellman & Black. He sees through the veil of mania he has lived in. He can picture reaching for her, being comforted and giving love, but then turns from this last chance, and sinks further into despair.
“He felt something move in his chest, as though an organ had been removed and something unfamiliar left in its place. A sentiment he had never suspected the existence of bloomed in him. It traveled from his chest along his veins to every limb. It swelled in his head, muffled his ears, stilled his voice, and collected in his feet and fingers. Having no language for it, he remained silent, but felt it root, become permanent.”
As I said, this is a very well written book, that for me was just a bit painful to read to the end. But that could totally just be my own opinion. I would recommend you read it and see for yourself.
3.5 out of 5
BTW- if I am totally honest, all the parts with the birds kind of freaked me out, seeing as I am petrified of all birds. As I was in the middle of this book, I could SWEAR that the geese that hang out near the pond I run around were watching me. I felt their eyes on me…scared the hell out of me.
- Bellman and Back by Diane Setterfield (readfulthingsblog.com)
- Bellman & Black – Diane Setterfield (cleopatralovesbooks.wordpress.com)
To Learn more about the Author, please visit this website-
Nice review. I’m excited to read this one too. And have been waiting (not so patiently!) for her next book!
This review was very helpful. I’ve been looking forward to this book as The Thirteenth Tale was great. Bracing myself for a painful read now 🙂
I’m so excited to read this, too. Your review has convinced me that I’ll really like it, although I get why you gave it a 3.5.
I’m also scared of birds! Seagulls and geese do petrify me. And people never get what upsets me so much, so yay for sharing a phobia!
I made my 13 yr old daughter watch The Birds, so now she gets it too, though they might be calling child services on me…
I’m glad you liked this more than I did. I just found it to be so dull. And yes, it was a disappointing follow-up to The Thirteenth Tale (which I LOVED), but I don’t think it’s just a victim of high expectations. This isn’t a book that would have grabbed me, no matter who wrote it.
I definitely thought the second part was VERY dull!
I love good writing, but I don’t think I could bear the sadness and inevitable descent into grief you describe.
It does sound sad – I’ll probably have to be in the right mood to tackle it.
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For me, this book wasn’t bad, but it didn’t live up to the expectation of “ghost story”. I also read The Thirteenth Tale LONG ago, so it was not fresh in my mind, but I still expected more 😦 I’m glad you enjoyed it though!
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