Monday, January 22, 2018

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield | Review

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield
Published: November 5, 2013
Publisher: Atria
Pages: 328
Received: for honest review from publisher via Netgalley (this is a super late review)
Find Online: Goodreads | Amazon

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 10, 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" . . .

I had received an egalley of this via Netgalley when it was first releasing.  Sadly, I was so new to Netgalley that I had accepted WAY TOO MANY review books that I ended up not getting to many of them in a timely manner. This year I am tackling my pile of shame and this is the first review book I decided to check off my list. I decided to listen to the audiobook version to help me tackle this issue.

I really enjoyed the audiobook - the story has details about rooks interspersed throughout the story. And since the story begins with young William using his catapult to kill a rook, it seemed only fitting. Also, the rook seems to be the omen of death in this story so the extra details about the birds was welcome and fitting.

This story follows William from a young age and shows what a smart man he is. From getting out of trouble to gaining impressive employment with the family business, he is a go getter. Sadly, as the ones he loves start dying around him, he throws himself into his work more and more. His grief takes over and he nearly loses his mind. He goes from running the mill to embarking an in interesting endeavour of creating Bellman & Black - the store for mourning ware. It's a great name for the store as it illicits the feeling of death and mourning since they can deliver on any detail small or large in regards to funerals and mourning. 

The creepy thing about the story is the illusive Mr. Black who he makes a deal with when coming up with the idea of the new company. He's only there in times of mourning and never when you think he should be. You start to wonder if he's real, imaginary or death incarnate. You'll have to read the book yourself to figure out what the deal is with Mr. Black and who he really is. 

The part I found so frustrating was Mr. Bellman's relationship with his family. He wishes for life, but works so damn much that he never sees them anyway. If they are so important, why didn't he make time for them? He was addicted to working - a true workaholic. It's sad that someone's life could be so dedicated to their career/work that they'd let themselves miss out on so much life around them. Perhaps that is part of the point to the story? Maybe someone else will have some wise words to say about it.

I'm thinking the story itself is about how we deal with loss in different ways - whether it's with living through memories or suppressing the unpleasant.

Have you read Bellman & Black? What did you think of it?

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