#1 New York Times bestselling author
“An astonishing work of genius.”—Bookreporter.com
Can one moment in time haunt you forever?
From the instant #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Thirteenth Tale comes a “poetic and mysterious” (Booklist) story that will haunt you to your very core.
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.
|Publisher:||Recorded Books, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 1.50(h) x 5.00(d)|
About the Author
Diane Setterfield is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Thirteenth Tale, and a former academic, specializing in twentieth-century French literature, particularly the works of Andre Gide. She lives in Oxford, England.
Date of Birth:August 22, 1964
Place of Birth:Berkshire, England
Education:Theale Green School, Berkshire (1975-1982); B.A., University of Bristol, 1986); Ph.D. in French, 1993
Read an Excerpt
Bellman & Black
Six days out of every seven the area along the Burford Road resounded with the clattering, booming, clanging, rattling, thundering noise of Bellman’s Mill. The shuttles that hurtled back and forth were the very least of it: there was also the churning, crashing roar of the Windrush as it turned the wheel that powered all this hectic to-ing and fro-ing. Such was the racket that at the end of the day, when the shuttles were brought home to rest and the mill wheel ceased to turn, the ears of the workers still rang with the vibration of it all. This ringing stayed with them as they made their way to their small cottages, was still there as they climbed into their beds at night, and as often as not, continued to sound through their dreams.
Birds and other small creatures stayed away from Bellman’s Mill, at least on working days. Only the rooks were bold enough to fly over the mill, seeming to relish its clamor, even adding a coarse note of their own to the music.
Today though, being Sunday, the mill was peaceful. On the other side of the Windrush and down the high street, the humans were making noise of another kind.
A rook—or a crow, it is hard to tell them apart—alighted with aplomb on the roof of the church, cocked its head, and listened.
“Oh come and dwell in me,
Spirit of power within,
and bring the glorious liberty
from sorrow, fear, and sin.”
In the first verse of the hymn, the congregation was tuneless and disorganized as a herd of sheep on market day. Some treated it as a competition where the loudest wins all. Some, having better things to do with their time than sing, rushed to the end as quickly as they could, while others, afraid of getting ahead of themselves, lagged a safe semiquaver behind. Alongside and behind these singers was a mass of mill workers whose hearing was not what it had been. These created a flat background drone, rather as if one of the organ pedals had got stuck.
Thankfully there was the choir and thankfully the choir contained William Bellman. His tenor, effortless and clear, gave a compass bearing, according to which the individual voices found north and knew where they were going. It rallied, disciplined, and provided a target to aim at. Its vibrations even managed to stimulate the eardrums of the hard of hearing, for the dull drone of the deaf was lifted by it into something almost musical. Although at “sorrow, fear, and sin” the congregation was bleating haphazardly, by “Hasten the joyful day” it had agreed on a speed; it found its tune “when old things shall be done away,” and by the time it reached “eternal bliss” in the last verse it was, thanks to William, as agreeable to the ear as any congregation can expect to be.
The last notes of the hymn died away, and soon after, the church door opened and the worshippers emerged into the churchyard, where they lingered to talk and enjoy the autumnal sunshine. Among them were a pair of women, one older and one younger, both abundantly decorated with corsages, brooches, ribbons, and trims. They were aunt and niece, or so they said, though some whispered otherwise.
“Doesn’t he have a fine voice? It makes you wish every day was Sunday,” the young Miss Young said wistfully to her aunt, and Mrs. Baxter, overhearing, replied, “If you wish to hear William Bellman sing every night of the week, you need only listen at the window of the Red Lion. Though”—and her undertone was audible to William’s mother standing a little way off—“what is pleasant to the ear might be less so to the soul.”
Dora heard this with an expression of benign neutrality, and she turned the same face to the man now approaching her, her brother-in-law.
“Tell me, Dora. What is William doing these days, when he is not displeasing souls who loiter at the window of the Red Lion?”
“He is working with John Davies.”
“Does he like farmwork?”
“You know William. He is always happy.”
“How long does he intend to stay with Davies?”
“So long as there is work. He is willing to turn his hand to anything.”
“You would not prefer something more steady for him? With prospects?”
“What would you suggest?”
There was a whole story in the look she gave him then, an old story and a long one, and the look he returned to her said, All that is true, but.
“My father is an old man now, and I have charge of the mill.” She protested, but he overrode her. “I will not speak of others if it angers you, but have I done you any injury, Dora? Have I hurt you or William in any way? With me, at the mill, William can have prospects, security, a future. Is it right to keep him from these?”
“You have not wronged me in any way, Paul,” she said eventually. “I suppose that if you don’t get the answer you want from me, you will go to William directly?”
“I would much sooner we could all agree on it.”
The choristers had disrobed and were leaving the church, William among them. Many eyes were on William, for he was as agreeable to look at as he was to the ear. He had the same dark hair as his uncle, an intelligent brow, eyes capable of seeing numerous things at once, and he inhabited his vigorous body with grace and ease. More than one young woman in the churchyard that day wondered what it would be like to be in the arms of William Bellman—and more than one young woman already knew.
He spotted his mother, widened his smile, and raised an arm to hail her.
“I will put it to him,” she told Paul. “It will be for him to decide.”
They parted, Dora toward William, and Paul to go home alone.
In the matter of marriage, Paul had tried to avoid his father’s mistake and his brother’s. Not for him a foolish wife with bags of gold, nor love and beauty that came empty-handed. Ann had been wise and good-hearted—and her dowry had just stretched to the building of the dye house. By being sensible and choosing the middle path, he had ended up with a harmonious domestic life, cordial companionship, and a dye house. But for all his good sense and solid reason he chided himself. He did not grieve his wife’s passing as a loving husband ought and in painfully honest moments he admitted in his heart that he thought more of his sister-in-law than was proper.
Dora and William went home.
The rook on the church roof gave an unhurried flap, lifted effortlessly from the roof, and soared away.
· · ·
“I’d like to do it,” Will told his mother in the small kitchen. “You won’t mind?”
“And if I do?”
He grinned and put an easy arm about her shoulders. At seventeen, there was still novelty in the pleasure of being so much taller than his mother. “You know I wouldn’t hurt you if I could help it.”
“And there’s the rub.”
· · ·
A while later, in a secluded spot screened by sedges and rushes, Will’s easy arm was around another shoulder. His other hand was invisible beneath a mass of petticoat, and the girl sometimes placed her hand over his to indicate slower, quicker, a change of pressure. Clearly he was making progress, he thought. At the start she had kept her hand over his all the time. The girl’s white legs were whiter still against the moss, and she had kept her boots on: they would have to make a run for it if they were disturbed. Her breath came in sharp gasps. It still surprised Will that pleasure should sound so like pain.
She fell abruptly silent and a small frown of concentration appeared on her face. Her hand pressed so hard over his it was almost painful and her white legs clamped together. He watched closely, fascinated. The flush on her cheeks and chest, the quiver of her eyelids. Then she relaxed, eyes still closed, and a small pulse beat in her neck. After a minute she opened her eyes.
He laid back, arms behind his head. No need for his hand to teach her. Jeannie knew what she was about.
“Don’t you ever think you’d like to come and sit on top of me and do it properly?” he asked.
She stopped and wagged a playful finger at him. “William Bellman, I mean to be an honest married woman one day. A Bellman baby is not going to get in my way!”
She returned to her task.
“Who do you take me for? Do you think I wouldn’t marry you if there was a baby coming?”
“Don’t be daft. Course you would.”
She caressed him, gently enough, firmly enough. It was just right.
“You’re a good boy, Will. I’m not saying you’re not.”
He took her hand and stopped it, propped himself up on his elbows to see her face properly.
“Will!” Seeing he would not be satisfied without an answer, she spoke, hesitant and tentative, the words born straight from her thoughts. “I know the kind of life I want. Steady. Regular.” He nodded her to go on. “What would my life be if I were to marry you? There’s no way of knowing. Anything might happen. You’re not a bad man, Will. You’re just . . .”
He laid back down. Something occurred to him, and he looked at her again.
“You’ve got someone in mind!”
“No!” But her alarm and her blush gave her away.
“Who is it? Who? Tell me!” He grabbed her, tickled her, and for a minute they were children again, shrieking, laughing, and play fighting. Just as quickly adulthood repossessed them and they set to finishing the business they were there for.
By the time the leaves and the sky came back into focus above his head, he discovered his brain had worked it out for him. It was respectability she wanted. She was a worker, unimpressed by the easy life. And if she was killing time with him, while waiting, it meant it was someone who hadn’t noticed her yet. There were not so very many candidates the right age, most of them you could eliminate for one reason or another. Of the remainder, one stood out.
“It’s Fred from the bakery, isn’t it?”
She was appalled. Her hand flew to her mouth then, more aptly, but too late, covered his.
“Don’t tell. Will, please, not a word!” And then she was crying.
He put his arms around her. “Hush! I won’t tell. Not a soul. Promise.”
She sobbed and hiccoughed and then was quiet and he took her hand in his. “Jeannie! Don’t fret. I bet you’ll be married before the year is out.”
They parted, heading off in different directions in order to arrive home by different paths.
Will walked the long route, upriver and over the bridge, down the other side. It was early evening. Summer was clinging on. It was a shame about Jeannie in a way, he reflected. She was a good sort of girl. A rumble came from his stomach and reminded him that his mother had some good cheese at home and a bowl of stewed plums. He broke into a run.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Bellman & Black includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
As a boy, William Bellman makes an impossible shot with his catapult, killing a rook instantly. He grows up to create a loving family and to manage a successful business, but the incident haunts his seemingly perfect life. Only when tragedy strikes does William realize that his boyhood deed may have lasting consequences. A stranger in black begins to haunt his life, and William enters into a strange bargain with the ghostly apparition. The gloomy, yet fantastically successful result of this bargain—Bellman & Black—changes his life forever.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The opening incident, when William kills a rook with his catapult, is recalled later in the narrative. What impression does the event leave with William’s companions (Charles, Luke, and Fred)? How do their memories of the event compare with William’s?
2. Look back to the intervening chapters about rooks that are scattered throughout the book. How does their placement relate to and have significance with the rest of the story? Discuss any legends and stories you may know about rooks, crows, and ravens. Perhaps you have personal experiences to share. Did the author draw on any literary references? If so, which ones?
3. How do Victorian mourning traditions compare to our modern-day experience? Were the Victorians wrong to mourn for so long and with so much expense? Is the way we do things better? What is the right place for commerce in death rituals?
4. William almost immediately succeeds at whatever he tries, and is both a dedicated worker and father. Why do you think the author makes William such a perfect ‘golden boy’? How does this affect your impression of him? Did you find William unsympathetic because of his easy success? Why or why not? Why weren’t the townspeople at all jealous of his model family and thriving business?
5. While Paul held William in high esteem, his father was not at all fond of William. What in particular appealed to Paul about his nephew? Also, discuss the reason why “the old Mr. Bellman” (p. 34) did not want William to manage his mill.
6. In a way, William plays the role of Paul’s son, as the successive family member at the mill. Imagine and discuss what Paul’s early relationship with his own son, Charles, was like. Why does Charles so willingly hand over the mill and house to William?
7. Despite the successful business in their family, William and his mother were not wealthy and struggled to make ends meet. Why did Dora not turn to her in-laws for assistance in raising William and providing for him?
8. Only Dora, William’s eldest daughter, survives the fever that devastates both their family and the town. Why do you think Dora seems to have a special understanding of her father? How does she know to avoid any discussion of birds or rooks with William?
9. William proves himself an extremely diligent and thorough man, whether he is managing the mill, nursing his family to health, or creating and maintaining a business with a stranger he has barely met. When do his work habits and diligence begin to get out of hand? Why and how does he work for so long without need for rest or company?
10. Much has changed since Victorian times but is William Bellman’s relationship with his work relevant to twenty-first-century readers?
11. Despite his appearance of friendliness to his employees and clients, William builds a thicker and thicker wall between himself and the world. Why does he fail to maintain his relationships with friends and family? For example, William hastily returns to London instead of staying in town for his friend Fred’s funeral.
12. Look back to the graveyard scene where William enters into the bargain with Black. Did you have any thoughts about who Mr. Black may be at this point in the story?
13. When William finally finds and speaks with Mr. Black at the end of the book, he learns that Bellman & Black was his own creation alone. Mr. Black tells him: “I offered you an opportunity, I’m not talking about Bellman & Black. That was your idea. What I was offering you in your bereavement was an opportunity of another kind. I offer it to you again now. Before it is too late” (p. 313). What was the opportunity that Mr. Black really offered that night in the graveyard, and that he offers again at this moment in the story?
14. How far is it possible to describe Bellman & Black as a ghost story? Which elements recall other ghost stories you have read and which ones seem unlike the classic ghost story? The author doesn’t believe in ghosts as such but she does believe that human beings are or can be haunted. Is this a helpful distinction?
15. Openings to books can carry special weight and readers and critics are inclined to pay special attention to first lines. What is important about the first word of Bellman & Black?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Find a literary example of rooks, crows, or ravens and share the significance of the birds in that piece of literature. How is the author’s use of rooks in the story similar to or different from other literary references?
2. Identify the passages when William encounters or thinks he sees Mr. Black. Is there any significance to the placement of these moments in the story? Write one or two sentences to clarify your understanding of William’s relationship with Mr. Black. Is he real or imagined? Discuss any similarities or differences you find with the group.
3. At the end of the novel, Dora attends her father’s funeral. She speaks with Robert, Fred’s son, about their deceased fathers. Both represent the next generation of the story, and this ending feels like a beginning for Dora. Imagine the next phase of Dora’s life, and write or discuss the next chapter for the story of these (now grown) children.
4. Speaking about her ideas for the story, the author mentions an interview she heard with a very successful businessman. When asked what prosperous businessmen have that ordinary people lack, the man responded that the question should really be what these successful people lack that drives them to work so incessantly. How did the author incorporate this idea in the novel? And what do you think successful people lack? Visit the author’s website and read her blog (DianeSetterfield.com) to learn more about her inspiration for this story.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I hate to say this, but Bellman & Black was a complete letdown. Okay, maybe not a complete letdown, but a pretty big one. I am a huge fan of The Thirteenth Tale. I devoured that book in two days and loved every single page. It was an amazing debut novel that I will push on anyone looking for a chilling Gothic tale. As much as it pains to me say this, I cannot say the same about Bellman & Black. The novel started out beautifully, albeit a little slow. Diane's prose are so wonderfully constructed that you cannot help but love her narration and writing technique. Unfortunately, the slowness does not pick up and the characters and plot do not live up to the amazing writing. Despite the high quality of the narrative, the story didn't grip my interest. It's almost as if nothing happens. We are told these day to day events of William Bellman, a man whose fortune goes from good to bad in a matter of months. The plot is thin and the characters uninteresting. Most of these characters end up dying, but I don't know enough about them to be upset or even care in the slightest. So much detail went into how the mill and shop were run, but it all is filler. I would have much preferred to learn more about these characters - there is no depth to them or their lives. I wanted to dive into Bellman & Black, not skim along the surface. I would normally star a DNF with a 1/5, but due to Diane's amazing writing style, I did feel that 1/5 was a too harsh. Her writing style is reminiscent of classic Gothic novels that we all know and love. Her meticulously detailed scenes put you into the scenery and allow you a clear picture. Her sporadic chapters from the point of view of the rooks also indicate her obvious research into the history and behavior of rooks that added a little extra something to the novel itself. For as much as I loved The Thirteenth Tale, it's unfortunate that I couldn't even finish Bellman & Black - I got about 161 pages in and that took me about a week to accomplish.
Does one deserve all the good they receive in life? What would you pay for happiness; can you put a value on it? Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield explores this question in a haunting and intriguing way! We meet William Bellman as a child, who in a moment of less than stellar thinking commits an act of cruelty resulting in the death of a black crow. Growing up, he becomes a man of integrity, a successful businessman with a loving family. When tragedy strikes his family and brings him to his knees, a mysterious figure enters his life. Mr. Black becomes his “partner” and we see him as a shadow-like figure, dark and ominous. Will this partnership be the ruin of William in the long run? Diane Setterfield has created a stark tale, not quite Hitchcock, but still dark with a foreboding message within. The pace is not fast, it is to be savored and allowed to build within your mind as each scene unfolds into the next, clearly drawing the reader into William’s era in time. Ms. Setterfield kept Mr. Black in the dark, revealing little about him until the book begins to wind down, adding to the mystery. William was a good character, not overly fleshed out, but I lacked that “connection” I wanted with him. There is no major build up to a climax, this isn’t that kind of book, it lends more to using your own imagination to create a Technicolor mood. The pace is slower, the attention to the detail of each scene is done with care as it crosses through the years in William’s life. I wanted to connect more than I did to this dark piece. I received an advance review copy from Atria Books in exchange for my honest review.
In the beginning, I was completely engrossed by this book, but after reading it, I felt like something was missing, almost like I'd been cheated. William Bellman was easy to like, initially. I enjoyed seeing him build his career and family and he was immensely happy in doing so. He was a smart businessman and a wonderful husband and father - at first. As stated in the book description, William suffers many losses and his priorities change. I found it interesting that when he first began work in the mill, William surrounded himself with vibrant colors, full of life - but when his circumstances changed, he seemed to shun bright colors, finding them vulgar, preferring grays and blacks. Interesting parallel with his life events. Bellman & Black is described as a ghost story, which was what initially made me want to read it, but it never really had the feel of a ghost story. I'm assuming the "ghost" had something to do with Black, but his character and purpose were never really made clear. As the story progressed, I kept waiting for something to happen - some big plot surprise or heart of the story - but by the middle of the book, I realized that was never going to develop. The writing was impressive and flowed very well, the narrative was wonderful and something that happens between William and Black in the end will make the reader think. However, after taking a few days to contemplate this book before writing the review, I still feel like the author never really got her point across and I even looked back through the book several times thinking maybe I missed something. Describing Bellman & Black as a ghost story is misleading - dark and depressing, definitely - scary and suspenseful, no, not even in the gothic sense. I'll be interested to see what other readers have to say about this book - maybe they can figure out the purpose of this story. This review is based on a digital ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.
I’d have to say it’s rather difficult to describe my emotional state after finishing BELLMAN & BLACK: A GHOST STORY. On the one hand, this was a well-written, slowly developing story that caused me to contemplate the consequences of all my actions, not just the major, life changing experiences; on the other, it did have ghostly elements, but when I picture a ghost story, this isn’t exactly what I have in mind. It’s more of a literary ghost story where you realize the ghosts are there, but they hover above the playing field and never really step out onto the grass. It also develops this phrase in narrative form: Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. Which proves an interesting expression to ponder for a novel, but I never felt like I was fully invested in this tale. The dialogue proved a bit pretentious for me with many characters never really becoming enamored with contractions. While William Bellman was certainly an interesting and intriguing character, he never grabbed my attention the way I hoped he would. He was stiff and aloof and more than a tad bit prickly, rigid, and distant. And the pace often proved a bit too leisurely for my tastes. It was more of a meandering jaunt in a field of lilies than a race in an open field. But the writing often sung a soprano solo in the middle of December, I just found myself only half-listening. In the end, I wanted to enjoy this story, and even though I tried a bit too hard at times to do so, ultimately I just wasn’t the right audience. Since I received THE THIRTEENTH TALE in my Bouchercon book bag, I’ll take it for a spin on the merry-go-round, but I’ll do so with a bit more careful consideration. I received this book for free through NetGalley. Robert Downs Author of Falling Immortality: Casey Holden, Private Investigator
Diane Setterfield's award winning, debut novel - The Thirteenth Tale, was a lovely, atmospheric 'ghost' story. Her second novel is Bellman and Black. Set in the past in England, Bellman and Black opens with young William Bellman launching the perfect slingshot volley - unexpectedly hitting it's target - a young rook. (a member of the crow family) That seemingly innocuous event forever marks young William's life. It isn't even an event he remembers. But he is afraid of birds..... Initially seen as a bit of a ne'er do well, young William finds his place in the world, successfully moving into a family business, marrying and having a family. But misfortune enters William's life as friends and family members die. And at each funeral William sees a mysterious man in black. A man with whom he eventually partners with in a new venture - a funeral emporium. Bellman and Black. I was very much looking forward the this second novel. But, I found myself somewhat disappointed. The story is slow to evolve, with much detail included in building both time and place. I did find the historical details included interesting, but I wanted more. I wanted something to happen. The man in black is mysterious, but there isn't enough of a build-up to the final reveal for me to be even remotely chilled. The role of rooks in history, myth and lore is discussed at the beginning of many chapters. Paying attention to that precluded any surprises that came with the final chapters. British cover versions of this book have added the sub-title of "A Ghost Story". This was not included on the North American cover. And wisely. While it's eerie, it doesn't cross into ghost territory in my opinion. Instead I found myself thinking of Poe's The Raven and Hitchcock's The Birds. Good, but not great for this reader. I found I was too easily able to put the book down. However, Setterfield's prose are excellent - I would pick up the next book by this author.
Bellman and BlackDiane SetterfieldSetterfield's first book, Thirteenth Tale, was a wonderful story that I love and recommend but find hard to explain. With Bellman and Black, she's done it again. The cover describes it as "a ghost story", but I'd have a hard time explaining exactly who is haunting whom.William Bellman is a young man when his uncle takes him under his wing and begins grooming him to take over the family cloth mill. Thanks to skill, a little luck, and incredibly hard work, Bellman expands and eventually inherits the business. His personal life is likewise sucessful, until one day tragedy strikes. Mourning at the grave of his dearest loved one, Bellman meets a mysterious man named Black, who offers him an opportunity. Inspired, Bellman envisions a new business, which he names Bellman and Black. His business is successful beyond his wildest dreams- until one day, after years it suddenly isn't. On the downward slope from a peak of success, Bellman begins to wonder who exactly his invisible business partner is, and what kind of deal he has made.Rooks figure largely in this story (if there is any specific ghost, it is a rook.) Death is part of life in this story. Color and the many shades of black are also a focal point.Summed up, it Bellman and Blackdoesn't sound wildly compelling. Oh but it is! This is one of those books where the power of the story (and the beauty of the writing) is greater than the basic plot. Its true gothic Victorian-style horror- chilling exactly because so much is left implied. The descriptions of color, cloth and materials are especially lush. I lost myself thoroughly in the pages of description for Bellman's business.If you want a story that is compelling, frightening, and gorgeous all at once, pick upBellman and Black when it goes on sale this week. Maybe, in the end, its the story that haunts you....You might like: Tiger's Wife,Obrect. Bookman's Tale, Lovett.Thirteenth Tale, Setterfield.
It was difficult to rate this book. The pros and cons: Pros: the author is very good at her minor details and creative narrative. Very descriptive scenes, and you kept wondering what was going to happen next, and where the story was going. I always love a story set in England, especially the Victorian era. Cons: You kept wondering where the story was going, and it didn't really get anywhere. Some parts felt as if they dragged on too long. The 13th Tale was a much more enjoyable read. I was a bit dissapointed in this novel.
I feel cheated. When I saw Bellman and Black: A Ghost Story at our local book shop, it was in the “horror” section. When I looked it up, the title mentioned “a ghost story”, so of course I had to ask for a review copy, because I absolutely freaking love ghost stories. Alas, this is not a ghost story. What is instead is an atmospheric, but slow, slow, utterly snail-like slow, story that shows little development for the first hundred-or-so pages and even then, barely picks up the pacing. It all starts with our protagonist, William, who shoots a bird with his catapult when he’s eleven years old. This event haunts him for the rest of his life, and offers disastrous consequences later on. A nice idea, and it might’ve worked well, if this book hadn’t been so…you guessed it, slow. The characters are paper-thin, and even the protagonist lacks personality. He feels like only half a person, something quickly mixed together for entertainment purposes, but only half-finished. The suspense is lacking, both because I couldn’t care about the characters due to their lack of personality, and because the pacing is too slow to build up any real tension. There’s no fear, no excitement, no horror. Instead, it’s a bland read from start to finish. I hadn’t read the author’s first book, but although it has rave reviews, I will probably skip it based on how boring “Bellman and Black” proved to be. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
This is one of those books that even after you’ve read it, you’re not entirely sure exactly what it was about. William Bellman killed a rook when he was 10 years old. Something changed in him that day, and he completely buried the memory of it. He never could stand the sight of birds afterwards. At age 17, William went to work at his uncle’s textile mill. It turned out that he had a brain for business, and before long he was revolutionizing the way the mill operated. As time moved on, people near and dear to William died, including his mother, his uncle, and his cousin, along with a friend or two. At each funeral, the same strange, unknown man was in attendance, and this fact puzzled and somehow troubled William. William inherited the mill and continued to turn a tidy profit. He eventually married and had his own family of 4 children. When an illness kills them all but his daughter, Dora, and leaves her fighting for her life, William is swayed from a suicide attempt by the same strange funeral-goer, the man that William will eventually refer to as Mr. Black. In order to take advantage of what he perceives as an opportunity presented by Mr. Black, William begins a new business empire, the mourning goods emporium known as Bellman and Black. William literally buries himself in his work, pushing his memories of the life he once had away, including his daughter Dora, who survived. Years down the line, and obsessed by making sure he can pay Black what he owes him should he come calling for his share of the business, Bellman realizes, too late, that his definition of “opportunity” and Mr. Black’s definition are quite different.
I eagerly anticipated Diane Setterfield's new book. The 13th Tale was inventive, well written and genuinely intriguing. Bellman & Black misses the mark. As I read, I waited for "something" to happen, but little does. The literary style is perfect. I love Setterfield's use of language, but the plot is flat and boring. A young boy kills a rook, a mysterious man arrives when the boy reaches adulthood and everyone in his life dies a tragic death. The story implies the rook is the story keeper of mankind, but the premise falls short in the telling of this dark and brooding tale.
Bellman and Black is an engaging read, in the sense that it brings the reader beyond the written page. the publisher contributed the story to be a ghost story, but i find it on par with an Edgar Allen Poe story. Its dark subtext, its breath of meaning is so beyond the modern tale. Bellman is a boy, the forgotten son abandoned by his father at a young age, and left to find his place in the world. His struggles are symbolized by the life he leads, the ideals are expressed in poetry, and song, in struggle and triumph, eclipsed by images of rooks, and death. This is a moving tale, of over coming great obstacles but also of loss and grief, purpose and life.... It is a dark tale, but one that absorbs the reader. In broad strokes it shows the industrial age, and the great movement of business, and men but ties it to a mythology that Poe would find endearing, and engaging.
This is a deep story. There were a lot of twists that brought me back to where I thought I was but then went off in another direction. There were a lot of historical facts and I learned things beyond what I thought I knew. The characters were down to earth types with the exception of William. One small incident ruled his whole life. I liked this book. It was definitely different from what I usually read. It was hard to put down and tugged at my heartstrings. Give this book a try and Enjoy!
It was suitably filled with a creepy dark aura. There seemed to be a build-up in the story that never really led anywhere. The story of the rooks was mystical and dark. I didn't feel that the death of the rook was linked sufficiently to the 'ghost' or whatever it is that appears. I was expecting the rooks to feature more strongly in the story. Instead the focus wanders off to Dora, which isn't a bad thing except that stagnated also. Indeed the story was a lot of neither here nor there and far from clear. If the author was trying to outsmart the reader by being overly cryptic or mixing in subliminal messages then that didn't really work. Instead the story is bland and lacks the essence of darkness it started with. What exactly is the deal Bellman makes? The deal leads to the construction of the building but the reader is never clear on the details of the deal. Was the fate of his daughter linked to the deal or was that the natural order of things. Was Bellman taught a valuable lesson with every loss? How is that connected to his actions as a child? It was clear what the story should have been or where the author was headed but the execution of it lacked clarity. I received a copy of this book via NetGalley.
That was fun! We meet William Bellman as a boy, with three of his friends, showing off as boys do. The other boys all know their places in the village. Even though William is growing up with only his mother and his father’s family ignores him, William ends up in the family business and is very good at it. He has a loving wife and four children. Everything is going great for him, until his memories become too painful. At his lowest point, William meets a man he calls Mr. Black. At the end of that night, he only remembers Mr. Black’s idea for a new business venture and he calls the new business Bellman & Black. Along the way, he gets really good at forgetting the painful parts of his life and also loses the good parts along the way. Soon enough, William is all about the work. Rooks appear off and on throughout William’s life and there are great tidbits about rooks throughout the story. Lots of interesting pieces about mourning in Victorian times sprinkled through the story. Lots of connections get made at the end. Highly recommended. Received free copy for review.
*Book source ~ NetGalley William Bellman is likeable, endlessly curious, and driven. When it looks like his life couldn’t get any happier, tragedy strikes and a thoughtless moment from his boyhood comes back to haunt him. First I have to say that I don’t know why this is called a ghost story. There’s no ghost unless you count the moment in Bellman’s past that haunts him his whole life. Well, it doesn’t actively haunt him, but there are moments when it migrates from his subconscious to his conscious mind and it’s in those moments he feels as if he’s going a little crazy. Anyway, no actual ghost is in this story. Now, this is a different kind of tale. Set in England, it never says what year, but it feels like it’s the 1800s. It’s like a memoir of Bellman’s life. It starts when he and three other boys are ten years old and Bellman kills a rook with his catapult (slingshot). In his defense, he never thought his rock would travel the distance and he did hesitate, but at the last moment he let it fly and wham. Dead bird. This is the moment that comes back to haunt him again and again through the book. While there doesn’t appear to be an obvious point to this story (to me anyway), I still found it fascinating. William Bellman is an interesting man and I enjoyed learning about the fabric mill and later the attention to detail when he opens Bellman & Black, a store that caters to the dead. In other words, if someone dies, Bellman & Black has everything a family needs for the funeral and mourning periods. I don’t expect this story will appeal to everyone, but I enjoyed it.
Bellman & Black is all about consequences. In the story, young William Bellman does something cruel that follows him and affects everything else in his life. The book was interesting and tragic, and is a good reminder that thought for consequences should come before action.
Not sure what happened.
It is a story for telling round a fire, fantastical.
Rooks and the industrial revolution. This novel was an interesting book for group discussion because, like The Thirteenth Tale, there were aspects of the narrative that were left to the discretion of the reader to unravel. It also contained passages of sheer brilliance; Ms Setterfield has a wonderful way with words. Unfortunately The Thirteenth Tale had a finale that left me blown away and that was missing from Bellman and Black. Our book group was also a bit underwhelmed by all the references to rooks. The introduction suggests that this is a ghost story, but I think readers would be disappointed if that is what they are hoping for. It's a painting of a man in the industrial revolution, who comes from a lower middle class family but makes good through sheer hard work and determination. William Bellman is an absolute workaholic. He starts out employed at his uncle's mill and eventually opens a one-stop-emporium for the sale of funereal items. I admired the author's descriptions of his work ethic, I almost felt exhausted just reading about how much he fitted into a day! Although the story opens with William shooting a perfect curve and slaying a young rook, it was questionable as to how this fitted in with the rest of the narrative. Did the rook haunt him throughout his life, or was it just an inspiration for all the shades of black that are later available in his mourning goods business? His life had its share of sorrows too - were these pay-back for the death of the rook? I loved the descriptions of industrial life in the textile mill, William's interactions with the staff and his dedication to the job. Then he opens his emporium and pours all of himself into that. Partly this is a reaction to the grief that is in his life, partly, I think, his whole work ethic. I had expected more to come of Girl 9, I had hoped for some denouement. Who was the man lurking at the funerals and later named Mr Black? (My book group had a theory about that but no spoilers here!) The Thirteenth Tale was a hard act to follow and this fell a bit short. I shall still be rushing out to get a copy of anything else Diana Setterfield writes, but next time I hope we'll get a stunning ending :)