“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:||Atria/Emily Bestler Books|
|Product dimensions:||6.40(w) x 9.24(h) x 1.14(d)|
About the Author
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
It was November. Although it was not yet late, the sky was dark when I turned into Laundress Passage. Father had finished for the day, switched off the shop lights and closed the shutters; but so I would not come home to darkness he had left on the light over the stairs to the flat. Through the glass in the door it cast a foolscap rectangle of paleness onto the wet pavement, and it was while I was standing in that rectangle, about to turn my key in the door, that I first saw the letter. Another white rectangle, it was on the fifth step from the bottom, where I couldn’t miss it.
I closed the door and put the shop key in its usual place behind Bailey’s Advanced Principles of Geometry. Poor Bailey. No one has wanted his fat gray book for thirty years. Sometimes I wonder what he makes of his role as guardian of the bookshop keys. I don’t suppose it’s the destiny he had in mind for the masterwork that he spent two decades writing.
A letter. For me. That was something of an event. The crisp-cornered envelope, puffed up with its thickly folded contents, was addressed in a hand that must have given the postman a certain amount of trouble. Although the style of the writing was old-fashioned, with its heavily embellished capitals and curly flourishes, my first impression was that it had been written by a child. The letters seemed untrained. Their uneven strokes either faded into nothing or were heavily etched into the paper. There was no sense of flow in the letters that spelled out my name. Each had been undertaken separately—M A R G A R E T L E A—as a new and daunting enterprise. But I knew no children. That is when I thought, It is the hand of an invalid.
It gave me a queer feeling. Yesterday or the day before, while I had been going about my business, quietly and in private, some unknown person—some stranger—had gone to the trouble of marking my name onto this envelope. Who was it who had had his mind’s eye on me while I hadn’t suspected a thing?
Still in my coat and hat, I sank onto the stair to read the letter. (I never read without making sure I am in a secure position. I have been like this ever since the age of seven when, sitting on a high wall and reading The Water Babies, I was so seduced by the descriptions of underwater life that I unconsciously relaxed my muscles. Instead of being held buoyant by the water that so vividly surrounded me in my mind, I plummeted to the ground and knocked myself out. I can still feel the scar under my fringe now. Reading can be dangerous.)
I opened the letter and pulled out a sheaf of half a dozen pages, all written in the same laborious script. Thanks to my work, I am experienced in the reading of difficult manuscripts. There is no great secret to it. Patience and practice are all that is required. That and the willingness to cultivate an inner eye. When you read a manuscript that has been damaged by water, fire, light or just the passing of the years, your eye needs to study not just the shape of the letters but other marks of production. The speed of the pen. The pressure of the hand on the page. Breaks and releases in the flow. You must relax. Think of nothing. Until you wake into a dream where you are at once a pen flying over vellum and the vellum itself with the touch of ink tickling your surface. Then you can read it. The intention of the writer, his thoughts, his hesitations, his longings and his meaning. You can read as clearly as if you were the very candlelight illuminating the page as the pen speeds over it.
Not that this letter was anything like as challenging as some. It began with a curt “Miss Lea”; thereafter the hieroglyphs resolved themselves quickly into characters, then words, then sentences.
This is what I read:
I once did an interview for the Banbury Herald. I must look it out one of these days, for the biography. Strange chap they sent me. A boy, really. As tall as a man, but with the puppy fat of youth. Awkward in his new suit. The suit was brown and ugly and meant for a much older man. The collar, the cut, the fabric, all wrong. It was the kind of thing a mother might buy for a boy leaving school for his first job, imagining that her child will somehow grow into it. But boys do not leave their boyhood behind when they leave off their school uniform.
There was something in his manner. An intensity. The moment I set eyes on him, I thought, “Aha, what’s he after?”
I’ve nothing against people who love truth. Apart from the fact that they make dull companions. Just so long as they don’t start on about storytelling and honesty, the way some of them do. Naturally that annoys me. But provided they leave me alone, I won’t hurt them.
My gripe is not with lovers of the truth but with truth herself. What succor, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney? When the lightning strikes shadows on the bedroom wall and the rain taps at the window with its long fingernails? No. When fear and cold make a statue of you in your bed, don’t expect hard-boned and fleshless truth to come running to your aid. What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie.
Some writers don’t like interviews of course. They get cross about it. “Same old questions,” they complain. Well, what do they expect? Reporters are hacks. We writers are the real thing. Just because they always ask the same questions, it doesn’t mean we have to give them the same old answers, does it? I mean, making things up, it’s what we do for a living. So I give dozens of interviews a year. Hundreds over the course of a lifetime. For I have never believed that genius needs to be locked away out of sight to thrive. My genius is not so frail a thing that it cowers from the dirty fingers of the newspapermen.
In the early years they used to try to catch me out. They would do research, come along with a little piece of truth concealed in their pocket, draw it out at an opportune moment and hope to startle me into revealing more. I had to be careful. Inch them in the direction I wanted them to take, use my bait to draw them gently, imperceptibly, toward a prettier story than the one they had their eye on. A delicate operation. Their eyes would start to shine, and their grasp on the little chip of truth would loosen, until it dropped from their hand and fell, disregarded, by the wayside. It never failed. A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth.
Afterward, once I became famous, the Vida Winter interview became a sort of rite of passage for journalists. They knew roughly what to expect, would have been disappointed to leave without the story. A quick run through the normal questions (Where do you get your inspiration? Are your characters based on real people? How much of your main character is you?) and the shorter my answers the better they liked it. (Inside my head. No. None.) Then, the bit they were waiting for, the thing they had really come for. A dreamy, expectant look stole across their faces. They were like little children at bedtime. And you, Miss Winter, they said. Tell me about yourself.
And I told. Simple little stories really, not much to them. Just a few strands, woven together in a pretty pattern, a memorable motif here, a couple of sequins there. Mere scraps from the bottom of my ragbag. Hundreds more where they came from. Offcuts from novels and stories, plots that never got finished, stillborn characters, picturesque locations I never found a use for. Odds and ends that fell out in the editing. Then it’s just a matter of neatening the edges, stitching in the ends, and it’s done. Another brand-new biography.
They went away happy, clutching their notebooks in their paws like children with sweets at the end of a birthday party. It would be something to tell their grandchildren. “One day I met Vida Winter, and she told me a story.”
Anyway, the boy from the Banbury Herald. He said, “Miss Winter, tell me the truth.” Now, what kind of appeal is that? I’ve had people devise all kinds of stratagems to trick me into telling, and I can spot them a mile off, but that? Laughable. I mean, whatever did he expect?
A good question. What did he expect? His eyes were glistening with an intent fever. He watched me so closely. Seeking. Probing. He was after something quite specific, I was sure of it. His forehead was damp with perspiration. Perhaps he was sickening for something. Tell me the truth, he said.
I felt a strange sensation inside. Like the past coming to life. The watery stirring of a previous life turning in my belly, creating a tide that rose in my veins and sent cool wavelets to lap at my temples. The ghastly excitement of it. Tell me the truth.
I considered his request. I turned it over in my mind, weighed up the likely consequences. He disturbed me, this boy, with his pale face and his burning eyes.
“All right,” I said.
An hour later he was gone. A faint, absentminded good-bye and no backward glance.
I didn’t tell him the truth. How could I? I told him a story. An impoverished, malnourished little thing. No sparkle, no sequins, just a few dull and faded patches, roughly tacked together with the edges left frayed. The kind of story that looks like real life. Or what people imagine real life to be, which is something rather different. It’s not easy for someone of my talent to produce a story like that.
I watched him from the window. He shuffled away up the street, shoulders drooping, head bowed, each step a weary effort. All that energy, the charge, the verve, gone. I had killed it. Not that I take all the blame. He should have known better than to believe me.
I never saw him again.
That feeling I had, the current in my stomach, my temples, my fingertips—it remained with me for quite a while. It rose and fell, with the memory of the boy’s words. Tell me the truth. “No,” I said. Over and over again. “No.” But it wouldn’t be still. It was a distraction. More than that, it was a danger. In the end I did a deal. “Not yet.” It sighed, it fidgeted, but eventually it fell quiet. So quiet that I as good as forgot about it.
What a long time ago that was. Thirty years? Forty? More, perhaps. Time passes more quickly than you think.
The boy has been on my mind lately. Tell me the truth. And lately I have felt again that strange inner stirring. There is something growing inside me, dividing and multiplying. I can feel it, in my stomach, round and hard, about the size of a grapefruit. It sucks the air out of my lungs and gnaws the marrow from my bones. The long dormancy has changed it. From being a meek and biddable thing, it has become a bully. It refuses all negotiation, blocks discussion, insists on its rights. It won’t take no for an answer. The truth, it echoes, calling after the boy, watching his departing back. And then it turns to me, tightens its grip on my innards, gives a twist. We made a deal, remember?
It is time.
Come on Monday. I will send a car to meet you from the half past four arrival at Harrogate Station.
How long did I sit on the stairs after reading the letter? I don’t know. For I was spellbound. There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic. When I at last woke up to myself, I could only guess what had been going on in the darkness of my unconsciousness. What had the letter done to me?
I knew very little about Vida Winter. I was aware naturally of the various epithets that usually came attached to her name: England’s best-loved writer; our century’s Dickens; the world’s most famous living author; and so on. I knew of course that she was popular, though the figures, when I later researched them, still came as a surprise. Fifty-six books published in fifty-six years; they are translated into forty-nine languages; Miss Winter has been named twenty-seven times the most borrowed author from English libraries; nineteen feature films have been based on her novels. In terms of statistics, the most disputed question is this: Has she or has she not sold more books than the Bible? The difficulty comes less from working out how many books she has sold (an ever-changing figure in the millions) than in obtaining solid figures for the Bible—whatever one thinks of the word of God, his sales data are notoriously unreliable. The figure that might have interested me the most, as I sat there at the bottom of the stairs, was twenty-two. This was the number of biographers who, for want of information, or lack of encouragement, or after inducements or threats from Miss Winter herself, had been persuaded to give up trying to discover the truth about her. But I knew none of this then. I knew only one statistic, and it was one that seemed relevant: How many books by Vida Winter had I, Margaret Lea, read? None.
I shivered on the stairs, yawned and stretched. Returning to myself, I found that my thoughts had been rearranged in my absence. Two items in particular had been selected out of the unheeded detritus that is my memory and placed for my attention.
The first was a little scene involving my father. A box of books we are unpacking from a private library clearance includes a number of Vida Winters. At the shop we don’t deal in contemporary fiction. “I’ll take them to the charity shop in my lunch hour,” I say, and leave them on the side of the desk. But before the morning is out, three of the four books are gone. Sold. One to a priest, one to a cartographer, one to a military historian. Our clients’ faces, with the customary outward paleness and inner glow of the book lover, seem to light up when they spot the rich colors of the paperback covers. After lunch, when we have finished the unpacking and the cataloging and the shelving and we have no customers, we sit reading as usual. It is late autumn, it is raining and the windows have misted up. In the background is the hiss of the gas heater; we hear the sound without hearing it for, side by side, together and miles apart, we are deep in our books.
“Shall I make tea?” I ask, surfacing.
I make tea all the same and put a cup next to him on the desk.
An hour later the untouched tea is cold. I make a fresh pot and put another steaming cup beside him on the desk. He is oblivious to my every movement.
Gently I tilt the volume in his hands so that I can see the cover. It is the fourth Vida Winter. I return the book to its original position and study my father’s face. He cannot hear me. He cannot see me. He is in another world, and I am a ghost.
That was the first memory.
The second is an image. In three-quarter profile, carved massively out of light and shade, a face towers over the commuters who wait, stunted, beneath. It is only an advertising photograph pasted on a billboard in a railway station, but to my mind’s eye it has the impassive grandeur of long-forgotten queens and deities carved into rock faces by ancient civilizations. To contemplate the exquisite arc of the eye; the broad, smooth sweep of the cheekbones; the impeccable line and proportions of the nose, is to marvel that the randomness of human variation can produce something so supernaturally perfect as this. Such bones, discovered by the archaeologists of the future, would seem an artifact, a product not of blunt-tooled nature but of the very peak of artistic endeavor. The skin that embellishes these remarkable bones has the opaque luminosity of alabaster; it appears paler still by contrast with the elaborate twists and coils of copper hair that are arranged with such precision about the fine temples and down the strong, elegant neck.
As if this extravagant beauty were not enough, there are the eyes. Intensified by some photographic sleight of hand to an inhuman green, the green of glass in a church window, or of emeralds or of boiled sweets, they gaze out over the heads of the commuters with perfect in-expression. I can’t say whether the other travelers that day felt the same way as I about the picture; they had read the books, so they may have had a different perspective on things. But for me, looking into the large green eyes, I could not help being reminded of that commonplace expression about the eyes being the gateway to the soul. This woman, I remember thinking, as I gazed at her green, unseeing eyes, does not have a soul.
Such was, on the night of the letter, the extent of my knowledge about Vida Winter. It was not much. Though on reflection perhaps it was as much as anyone else might know. For although everyone knew Vida Winter—knew her name, knew her face, knew her books—at the same time nobody knew her. As famous for her secrets as for her stories, she was a perfect mystery.
Now, if the letter was to be believed, Vida Winter wanted to tell the truth about herself. This was curious enough in itself, but curiouser still was my next thought: Why should she want to tell it to me?
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 :)