Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

10 October, 2013

Bellman & Black

It’s been 6 long years since Diane Setterfield’s novel The Thirteenth Tale touched me with its gothic structure encasing a twisted tale of siblings with red tresses. I squealed with excitement on learning her new novel, Bellman & Black, was to be published this year and almost fainted when I won a copy of a signed ARC from Orion Books which I collected from Goldsboro Books situated in a tiny lane filled with antiquarian bookshops connecting Leicester Square to Covent Garden. Wonderful!

Bellman & Black
is the tale of William Bellman, son to the heir of Bellman Mills so unceremoniously kicked out after making a hasty marriage and who subsequently disappears leaving his baby son and heartbroken wife in the small town of Whittingford. But William grows up hearty and loved and carries the potential of hope and happiness around him. But a childhood incident binds him to his playmates and will change his life forever although he doesn’t know it as he grows older and is hired by his uncle Paul to help run his family mill. Everything William touches flourishes and soon Bellman Mills’ success means they cannot do without William. But when he loses his mother, slowly his life begins to unravel. Even a happy marriage and children cannot stem the slow encroachment of the darkness which began that fateful day when William and his friends killed a rook when they were ten. While William struggles with his memories and suppresses his horror of death, his business empire expands until he comes up with the idea of creating a business which has never been seen before. He will call it Bellman & Black – but who is this mysterious Mr. Black who has haunted William since his mother’s death? And is William’s slow transformation into a workaholic man determined not to be bound by time really ok?

There is so much to love about this book. The writing style, the structure, the way in which Setterfield subtly interweaves all her incredible ideas into not only a coherent but a touchingly beautiful story devoid of over-sentimentalisation is wonderful. Bellman & Black is difficult to categorise. On one hand it is a gothic tale but split into two. The first half charting the rise of William Bellman and filled with laughter and happy memories. The second is a totally different side showing all the different shades of black so beloved of Bellman & Black’s emporium. The novel was somewhat different from what I anticipated, a straightforward contract regarding death, but it became something else entirely. I felt I had gone on a long journey with William and come out feeling so much for him. Setterfield masterfully makes the reader forget the past as well as she did William. For this novel is about thought and memory and rooks. There’s layer upon layer of dark and sorrow and yet it’s not empty of hope and love.

You can spot lots of Dickensian characters in Bellman & Black which sets the scene for the tale dusted with a touch of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. And you will learn a lot about mills and cloth and retail and especially about how to be a cracking businessman. And you will also learn about how to be a part of a community and how to be alone. And you will learn not to harm any rooks. Bellman & Black is a beautifully written tale. Just perfect.

I read this as part of R.I.P. VIII.

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10 Responses to “Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield”

  1. Melissa Says:

    Yay! I’ve been so excited about this one and this is the first review of it that I read. Dickens, The Night Circus and more, it sounds right up my alley.

  2. debbierodgers Says:

    It’s good to see a positive review of this. It seems many have gone into it expecting another Thirteenth Tale and have been disappointed. It sounds, though, as if it will stand well on its own if one allows it to.

    • sakura Says:

      I haven’t read any other reviews as I wanted to approach the book fresh. I read The Thirteenth Tale when it just came out so there was enough time in between to forget most of it but still retain a sense of feeling of the book. That probably helped. Now I do want to go back and re-read it!

  3. Mystica Says:

    I think the saga sounds amazing.

  4. TracyK Says:

    This is the first good review I have seen of this book. (I have not read The Thirteenth Tale.) I don’t know if Bellman & Black is my kind of story (especially as it is a ghost story), but I am glad to see a different view of it.

    • sakura Says:

      I recommend both books but they are very different from each other, although both are gothic tales. I’m going to have to go and hunt down those negative reviews – I was avoiding reading anything about Bellman & Black while I was reading it. But I do hope you give it a try.

  5. aartichapati Says:

    Oh, good! I, too, have read nothing but negative reviews of this book so was quite happy to let it sit squandering on my shelf for a while. Perhaps I’ll pick it up in November now.

    • sakura Says:

      I’ve read quite a lot of fantastic books this year but this is certainly one of the best. Maybe it just tapped into something I really like in me. But I would really be interested to see what you think. But it’s very different from The Thirteenth Tale.


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