Title: Bellman & Black
Author: Diane Setterfield
Publisher: Emily Bestler Books/ Atria Books
Publication date: November 5th 2013
Page Count: 337 pages
Age Rating: YA and Up (a few vague sexual references)
How I got my hot little hands on it: Received a free ARC to review
Publisher’s page: Bellman & Black
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.
William Bellman kills a rook as a boy of ten; as a man he finds his life’s tragedies forever entwined with the appearance of these birds. He works hard and has a nose for business, but all the success and money he acquires does not spare him the loss of his loved ones. In the throes of deepest grief he makes a deal with the mysterious Mr. Black – a deal that consumes Bellman until his dying day.
Bellman & Black is very well written and the words on the page have an almost lyrical quality that make for very pleasant reading. But, for all the book’s gorgeously crafted prose, it wasn’t what I expected. The cover calls it a ghost story, and it is – for some meanings of ghost story. It is for sure the story of a man haunted – but the ghosts in this story are not the kind that say “boo”; they are the ghosts of past wrongs, of loved ones lost, of the unreasonable and unavoidable nature of death, and of wasted opportunities.
The story’s setting is fascinatingly rich with details that really anchor the tale with the earthly realities of running a mill and of building and establishing a huge department store from the ground up. This well-set reality helps to make the ill-omened appearances of the rooks and of Mr. Black stand out sinisterly in contrast.
Bellman & Black was slow going at times, but to me it was well worth it to follow Bellman’s journey all the way through. I went into this book looking for something different, a ghost story, but I came out the other side ultimately content that it was what it was: a haunting, ominous tale of looking for meaning in tragedy and trying to bargain your way out.
All in all, I recommend Bellman & Black to fans of gothic, literary fiction and encourage readers to stick with it to the end – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Rook Coffee Roasters Flores – Dark and earthy with a bittersweet finish, it’s perfect for the depressingly haunting tale of Bellman & Black.
- Book Review: Diane Setterfield’s Bellman & Black (literaryetc.com)
- Review: “Bellman & Black” by Diane Setterfield (mybooklust.wordpress.com)
- Bellman & Black- a review (turnthepagereviews.com)