Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield
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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" . . .I received this ebook from the publisher via Netgalley. The ebook is available on Amazon for $6.49 (1/8/14).
William Bellman is a normal guy lives a blessed life full with a wonderful job, loving wife, and adorable children. But Bellman's good turn quickly turns south as one after the other, everyone close to him dies. Mysteriously, each time he attends the funerals he sees Mr Black, smiling, waiting. Who is he and what does he want?? And with each death Bellman turns further into himself and into his work. Soon, work consumes him and Bellman doesn't even notice.
Because of the nature of this story, the novel is quite repetitive. Death---work, work, work. Death---work, work, work. Setterfield's writing style was also quite dry and formal (some would argue, completely British), which is normally something I avoid. Detached story telling, or 'fly-on-the-wall', is something I really struggle getting into. I, personally, really need to connect with a character and feel something for them to be motivated to finish. Somehow, Setterfield manages to capture my attention here. I was pulled in. Perhaps its all the psychology classes I took back in college, but I was entirely intrigued by Bellman's obsessive work nature. As he became more obsessive, I became more interested in where Setterfield was taking me, who exactly the mysterious Black really was, and how she would tie in the rooks.
Mixed bag review?? For sure. I myself am torn! Repetitiveness, dry, and an ending I am just not quite sure of...and yet...Bellman & Black has something going for it. It is intriguing and well written, with an air of mystery. Bellman & Black was surprisingly good, and a nice way to end 2013. If you like books where you have to dig a bit deeper, enjoy a good psychoanalysis, or enjoy a drier voice (ie Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise), this book will be a good fit. I rate it a solid 3.5 Stars.
I have heard plenty about Setterfield's other work The Thirteenth Tale. Reviewers typically claim that story is better than this one. If that is true, I will need to pick it up for sure!