Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

bellman-and-blackFormat: E-book galley

Length: 336 pages

Publisher: Atria Books

Source: NetGalley

From the publisher:

ONE MOMENT IN TIME CAN HAUNT YOU FOREVER. 

Caught up in a moment of boyhood competition, William Bellman recklessly aims his slingshot at a rook resting on a branch, killing the bird instantly. It is a small but cruel act, and is soon forgotten. By the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, William seems to have put the whole incident behind him. It was as if he never killed the thing at all. But rooks don’t forget . . . 

Years later, when a stranger mysteriously enters William’s life, his fortunes begin to turn—and the terrible and unforeseen consequences of his past indiscretion take root. In a desperate bid to save the only precious thing he has left, he enters into a rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner. Together, they found a decidedly macabre business. 

And Bellman & Black is born.

Here’s what I thought:

A lot of people read and fell in love with Setterfield’s first book, The Thirteenth Tale. I have a feeling that when her latest book, Bellman & Black, was announced, those people were expecting a similar story and were perhaps disappointed by what they found. At least, that’s the impression I’ve gotten from many of the reviews I have read up to this point. I enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale but it didn’t bowl me over, and so while I was interested to read Bellman & Black, I didn’t go into it with any particular expectations. This is one reason why I was so pleasantly surprised by what I found.

Although the subtitle of the book is ‘A Ghost Story’, I think it would be more accurate to say that B&B is a fable. It tells the story of William Bellman, a man who experiences a traumatic event in childhood which consequently follows him throughout the rest of his life. In telling Bellman’s story, Setterfield tackles issues of morality and mortality in the setting of Victorian England, a time period with a fixation on death and mourning.

The story is told from the point of view of an omniscient narrator, which fits perfectly with the events that unfold. There is an aura of tragedy that hangs over everything, almost as if the narrator were a dark shadow looming over Bellman as he goes about the business of his life. And the business of his life is exactly that–business–as efficiency and profitability are the watchwords of Bellman’s existence.

As with any fable, there is a moral at the end of the story, and I thought it was expertly conveyed. Setterfield is an atmospheric writer, with every scene lending itself to the overall effect and building up to the ultimate outcome. Although the ending is not a happy one, I couldn’t help but appreciate Setterfield’s talent in achieving it. Highly recommended.

Thanks so much to NetGalley and Atria Books for providing me with a copy of this book.

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5 thoughts on “Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

  1. Kelly

    Great review! I remember loving The Thirteenth Tale, but I read it so long ago that I don’t remember a lot of the specifics. Seems that that might help me out when I read B+B.

    Reply
  2. Peggy@Peggy Ann's Post

    I read this going in thinking it was a ghost story and I was disappointed. I think you are right, it is a fable and looking at it from that standpoint now I can appreciate it more. I still didn’t really care for it as it was was too bogged down with business detail and slow. But her way with words is beautiful. Thanks for giving me a new viewpoint!

    Reply
  3. Trish

    I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed this one! Like you mention, so many people seem to be disappointed this one. I do think it helps to go into a story without expectations and it’s hard when you love the first book so much (I liked it but goodness that leading lady annoyed me!).

    Reply
  4. Pingback: The November Wrap-Up | Too Fond

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