As a boy, William Bellman commits one small cruel act that appears to have unforseen and terrible consequences. The killing of a rook with his catapult is soon forgotten amidst the riot of boyhood games. And by the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, he seems indeed, to be a man blessed by fortune.
Until tragedy strikes, and the stranger in black comes, and William Bellman starts to wonder if all his happiness is about to be eclipsed. Desperate to save the one precious thing he has left, he enters into a bargain. A rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner, to found a decidedly macabre business.
And Bellman & Black is born.
Having fallen in love with A Thirteenth Tale (you can see it is still on the bookshelf in my header), I have been eagerly watching out for Diane Setterfield’s next book. For a while Amazon said Untitled with a release date of 2012, then it went to 2013 so I was beginning to wonder whether it would ever happen. It did and the title was to be Bellman & Black.
Reviews began to pop up about this book, and if I’m honest most were lukewarm at best, so I lowered my expectations and realised that this was going to be a different reading experience to her first book.
I will now stop with the comparisons and review this book on its own merits.
The book itself bills this story as a ghost story. My initial impression on finishing it, was, that it reminded me in some elusive way of Charles Dickens book, A Christmas Carol, as it had that moralistic feel to it, although the moral appeared to be a more modern concept than the Victorian time period it is set in.
We first meet Bellman as a ten year old boy playing in the fields with his cousin Charles and friends Luke and Fred. He demonstrates his creativity in solving problems when he hits a rook off a branch killing it. The boys are both fascinated and horrified in the special way ten year olds can be, but they get on with the business of growing up. As the reader we meet them later on when they are all adults.
This isn’t a fast moving book, there is an awful lot about business. William is involved with the running of his uncle’s mill and he is clearly clever, good with figures and exceptionally good at solving problems and presenting viable solutions. I found this interesting, as I did the other informative parts of the book which include Victorian mourning rituals and facts about the crow family. I particularly liked these which are spread throughout the book as footnotes. Diane Setterfield clearly demonstrates her skill as a writer with some of the drier parts of this book, as if I’m honest, I kept waiting for something to happen but was entranced enough to keep reading without becoming too frustrated.
This isn’t going to be the book for you if you want action because even now I’ve turned the last page and reflected, not a great deal happened. I’m not sure what normal ghost stories are like as this isn’t a type of book I seek out but this didn’t scare me as I felt the worst had already happened to William,and that was life and not ghosts. This story is about love, loss and death but in a quite remote way as we see William’s reaction to these events as a spectator, I didn’t feel connected to him although I sympathised with him.
If you want to lose yourself in some authentic-feeling Victorian novel then try this. I found it more of an informative read than an entertaining read but one done with great style. I do love the cover which I know isn’t a reason to buy a book but it does help to wear a good jacket!
I received a copy of this book from the publishers in return for my opinion in this review.
- cover comparison: bellman & black by diane setterfield (nonsuchbook.typepad.com)
- Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield (tthread.wordpress.com)