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”. ~ Goodreads
I’ve waited 7 years for a new book from Diane Setterfield! I absolutely loved The Thirteenth Tale – a haunting page turner that reminded me a bit of Jane Eyre, with ghosts, suspense and mysterious characters.
Bellman & Black is also considered a ghost story with more of an ethical undertone: “what would you do for success and happiness?” “How do the choices you make effect your life?” This is the perfect read for this time of year, with Halloween just ending. I felt uneasy in parts the same way that an Alfred Hitchcock movie or show would creep up on you. Dread and sorrow lurking. What lies around the corner waiting for you? *Shiver*
The rooks in this story represent many things but “are made of thought and memory. They know everything and they do not forget.” (location 1680; advance uncorrected reader’s proof).
The choice William made years ago as a boy to murder a rook will haunt him for years to come. But not in his mind or conscience. He chose to forget about the incident and didn’t show any form of remorse. He had a split second to scare the rook away but part of him wanted to see if he could do it. Choices, choices. His life goes on and is very successful and has a beautiful wife and family. But when tragedy strikes the town and his family fall victim he makes a deal with a strange man at a funeral. That deal saves his daughter’s life and a new prosperous business is created. Just when he becomes comfortable once again, a rook comes tapping at his window looking for the payout; somewhat similar to Poe’s “Raven”. Another *Shiver*.
“From this newly unveiled vantage point he saw that his old good fortune was a cruel joke: encourage a man to think he is lucky all the better to bring him down afterward. He realized his essential smallness, the vanity of his efforts to control his fate.” (location1840; advance, uncorrected reader’s proof).
This is not a quick read. The layered and atmospheric prose builds the tension and dark mood of the story. Diane Setterfield is an amazing writer. Her writing is tight and gives the reader crisp imagery. Sentences abound are delicious like: “The lightening of the sky, discernible through the curtains, drew her out of her reverie. She wriggled back into a sleeping position and closed her eyes.” (location 2142; advance, uncorrected reader’s proof)
Hopefully Setterfield will not wait another seven years to bring us another one of her literary gems. Book clubs will enjoy this debatable story about choices, fate, chance, memory and thoughts. The connection between animal and man. I would love to get all book nerdy with some bookish friends and discuss this story. Add a little wine?
I want to thank, thank, thank NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for this advance, uncorrected reader’s proof. I was not compensated or required to post a public review. But Diane Setterfield? I was all over that request.
Released today November 5, 2013.