Saturday, November 2, 2013

Bellman & Black

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield
Atria/Emily Bestler Books; 11/5/2013
Hardcover, 336 pages

ISBN-13: 9781476711959


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.
My Thoughts:

Bellman & Black is the much anticipated second novel by Diane Setterfield, author of The Thirteenth Tale

When he was ten years old, William Bellman was out playing with a group of friends. He aimed his slingshot at a rook on a dare, fully anticipating he would miss. He didn't. He remembers this foolish act the rest of his life. And the rooks do too. When William grows up he joins his uncle in his textile business. He is a natural at business with a fine eye for detail, and helps the family business succeed among their competitors. William marries, starts a family and it seems his life is set. Except there is a enigmatic man dressed in black who always seems to be there, in the background someplace, as are the rooks.

As death begins to take people around him, William alone is the only one who perceives the man in black to be ever present at every funeral, or watching from the distance or out of the corner of his eye. Eventually, William talks to him and makes a mysterious deal with Mr. Black and sets his sight on opening Bellman and Black, a shop in London specializing in mourning and funerals. Even while his business is wildly successful, William Bellman mental health is slowing starting to fragment, and Mr. Black is always on his mind, unseen, or perhaps just a fleeting glimpse in the distance.

Bellman & Black is an atmospheric Gothic novel set in the Victorian Era when funerals and mourning were an important ritual in society. Setterfield did an excellent job setting the novel in this time period and historical  context. Her research is commendable. But, then, as shown in The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield is a phenomenal wordsmith who can write descriptions that will resonate with you throughout the whole book. She sets the tone exquisitely in Bellman & Black. Tidbits of folklore/information about rooks that will slowly facilitate the sense of dread and foreboding as you are reading are interspersed after chapters.  

The atmospheric tension present in Bellman & Black is not of the breathless-galloping-action type, but, rather, the dread and foreboding very slowly build and the reality of the presumed menacing threat is unclear and hazy. This does make Bellman & Black a rather slow read, which in itself is not bad. The actual haunting is more subtle and subjective than most ghost stories. While we are aware of the implied mythology behind the rooks and their appearance in the story, the haunting of William based on his childhood action seems cryptic and vague.

Highly Recommended


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Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Atria/Emily Bestler Books via Netgalley for review purposes.


westmetromommy said...

I simply can.not.wait for this book! Thanks for the review!

Lori L said...

This is a much anticipated novel for many people!