Book Review: Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield.

16 12 2013


Thanks to Orion Publishing and NetGalley for helping me get a copy of Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield.  It is available now for anyone interested in this title.

I gave this gothic fiction story – 2 Stars.

First of all I would like to say that I read Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale and was completely entranced by the novel in every way – the story, the detail, the characters – it all captivated me.  Perhaps then, I was expecting great things from this book. In the end, I got the details and the characters, but the story fell a little flat.

The book centers around Will Bellman, who at 10 years old, catapults a rock through the air and kills a rook in his little English Hamlet.  The group of boys he is with are mystified by the event, horrified a bit even. From that moment on Bellman’s life is haunted by the rooks.  They appear through every part of his life as the fore-tellers of bad news.  Again and again Bellman faces tragic circumstance, only to continue to put his head to the plow and move forward. He never really sees or understands the hold the rook has over him. Living a life of distractions and pushing through, he seems to miss everything good around him.  There is not a lot of joy or redemption in this story.

Setterfield’s detailed style is quite evident throughout the novel, as each scene is literally painted into the mind of the reader.  We see the places, the people, the sorrow of this book.  We are naturally drawn to young Will, who seems to have extraordinary ideas and stamina. He makes a difference in the lives of others, even as he loses himself.  Yet the substance of the story does not link Will with his characters closely enough.  While death is prevalent, we don’t feel the loss – and maybe that’s the point.  There is little action to draw the reader through the actual story.  I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop – any shoe, something that would give an inkling to the true meaning of the novel.  While I think the author explains it at the end, the mechanics of the plot did not bring me to that same place.

I would classify the novel as a work of Gothic fiction – the subtitle is “A Ghost Story.”   It definitely has supernatural elements in it that could make some readers uncomfortable.

I was provided a complementary copy of the book by the publisher – all opinions expressed are my own.




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