Saturday, January 25, 2014

Bellman & Black - Diane Setterfield

 I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

In other news, I'm using Grammarly to check for plagiarism because if aliens ever take over Earth, I think not being a plagiarizer will make them more sympathetic to my cause. (My cause of please don't kill me!)  (And I'm also using it because my sentences tend to have an infestation of commas.  And parenthesis.  Like this one.  Oops?)

Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story


GoodreadsBellman & 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" . . .


When the mysterious sky dance is over, the spectators blink and breathe and come to themselves after their long enchantment.  They feel mild surprise at finding themselves contained in their bodies on this sloping hillside:  for the last half hour they have been elsewhere.  Their souls resettle in their bodies.  Fingers stretch and toes wriggle experimentally.  Their rib cages and unfeathered flesh feel faintly foreign to them.


I want to preface this review by saying...I hate to have to do this.  Diane Setterfield's debut, The Thirteenth Tale was one of the most amazing books I have ever read.  It is easily in my list of all time favourite books.  It has EVERYTHING - crazy levels of suspense, well thought out characters, a twisty plot, and some of the most lush, vivid, beautiful writing I have ever had the pleasure of reading.  I have been waiting for Diane Setterfield's next book for YEARS.  Every few months I'd search for when the next book was out, so when I found out about this book (and when I got approved for an ARC) I was ecstatic.  

Bellman & Black has the same beautiful language and gothic feel as The Thirteenth Tale, but sadly none of the suspense.  Reading about a man's obsession with making money just isn't what I'm into.  There are only so many times I can read the details of a mill's accounting before I start getting agonizingly bored.  Especially when I don't understand what the point of it all was!  

From here on out be careful of minor spoilers!  The first part of the book details what a charmed life William has - he's handsome, charming, has had luck with pretty much ALL the ladies in town, is incredibly intelligent, and ends up running a mill.  Unfortunately in the next section of the book, it's all downhill from there.  And throughout all of this William comes off anywhere from being a...jerk, and incredibly boring.  Worst possible combination I can think of.  And the worst part of all of this is...I STILL DON'T GET IT.  I really, really don't know why we had to know all the details of the accounting.  I think I get who Black is?  But what was the deal?  What was he supposed to do?  It makes me SO. ANGRY.  If I had to read this entire book of nothing I at least need to know WHAT WAS IT ALL FOR?!?!?!

On the upside, I actually liked all the asides with facts about the rooks.  For one, it made a break from the monotony of what it's like to run a business.  It also involved some of Setterfield's most beautiful writing.  I didn't include it here, but the last line of the book is everything I love about last lines in a book.  (And of course it involves rooks)


I wanted to love this.  I adore Setterfield's writing, and I absolutely will buy her next book regardless of my feelings on this one.  I imagine it is always incredibly difficult to write another novel when your debut has been so successful with both critics and readers.  I pray that she gets the chance to release another novel because I know I'm not the only one out there rooting for her, despite not loving this novel.


  1. Yes, yes and yes. Exactly my feelings. Exactly.

  2. kirstymariejonesstudioreadsJanuary 27, 2014 at 12:55 PM

    And by reading a few reviews of this, I just...huh? The whole money thing is just mean, why would you want to read about the boring? Sounds like a total snooze fest.

  3. I didn't love this one either. I think a few mistakes were made with this one - the first and biggest being the way it was marketed. It's much closer to a parable than a ghost story. Maybe her next book will be as fantastic as The Thirteenth Tale!

  4. Yeah I was really confused about the ghost story part of this - I didn't even realize it was marketed as a ghost story until I looked it up on Goodreads to write this, so luckily I wasn't going in with that expectation! And yeah, here's hoping!

  5. Yeah I'd definitely recommend passing on this one. Hopefully her next book will bring us back to the amazingness that it The Thirteenth Tale!

  6. Of course! I definitely referenced our conversation on this when I was writing it haha

  7. I only read the whole book out of loyalty to the author and the hope that it would turn around somehow. Have you read The Thirteenth Tale? If you haven't I DEFINITELY think it's up your alley

  8. I loved the Thirteenth Tale so much too. I started seeing reviews of this one around and it seems a lot of people don't love it as much as the first book. I'll probably pass on this one... but I still love the Thirteenth Tale!


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