Bellman and Black

Bellman and Black

Book - 2013
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15

Bellman & Black is a heart-thumpingly perfect ghost story, beautifully and irresistibly written, its ratcheting tension exquisitely calibrated line by line. Its hero is William Bellman, who, as a boy of 11, killed a shiny black rook with a catapult, and who grew up to be someone, his neighbours think, who "could go to the good or the bad." And indeed, although William Bellman's life at first seems blessed--he has a happy marriage to a beautiful woman, becomes father to a brood of bright, strong children, and thrives in business--one by one, people around him die. And at each funeral, he is startled to see a strange man in black, smiling at him. At first, the dead are distant relatives, but eventually his own children die, and then his wife, leaving behind only one child, his favourite, Dora. Unhinged by grief, William gets drunk and stumbles to his wife's fresh grave--and who should be there waiting, but the smiling stranger in black. The stranger has a proposition for William--a mysterious business called "Bellman & Black" . . .

Publisher: Toronto : Bond Street Books/Doubleday Canada, c2013.
ISBN: 9780385679503
Characteristics: 307 pages ;,23 cm.

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IndyPL_SteveB Apr 03, 2019

*Bellman and Black* has some of the same Gothic atmosphere as her first novel (the terrific *The Thirteenth Tale*) and some equally fine writing; but not much plot and little that is surprising.

The book follows the life of William Bellman from the age of 10 when he kills a young rook (an English variety of crow) in a faraway tree with a slingshot. He becomes a husband, father, and exceptionally successful businessman; but the specter of death always haunts him. Eventually he uses this feeling to start a business which specializes in funerals and mourning clothes and attire. But he remains haunted by an odd man called Mr. Black.

Setterfield is exceptional in her descriptions of people and their interactions, with observations that immediately convey character and setting. Lovely writing and I was pulled along in the book by the little surprises in the language. But at the end, the substance of the story was just not enough to bring it up the level of her first book.

h
Havanacat
Jan 30, 2019

Place. Subtle and atmospheric, this is a well-rendered Gothic tale about a man whose seemingly innocent childhood catches up to him.

e
eric19kcls
Jan 23, 2019

Well developed characters and good historical background but the dark fantasy about birds becomes rather dull and hard to accept. 2-3 stars

v
valiantprince
Jun 08, 2017

If you enjoyed Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, this book should be right up your alley. I wouldn't call it a mystery so much as an historical fantasy. Well written--it made me want to go find other books by Ms. Setterfield.

* * * * * Five stars

h
heinrij
Sep 13, 2015

I kept reading this waiting for something to happen and nothing ever did. PG-13 for brief, mild, sex

i
IV27HUjg
Jul 31, 2015

The variety of reviews interest me. This is researched so well to explain how/why the Victorian era continues to influence many present day practices; how clothing mills progress; the details of cloth; the ravages of 19thC illnesses & how they devastate populations. Historical in nature. I'd like this in MP3 format so as not to keep changing discs.

m
margot1962
Dec 12, 2014

A disappointment after her previous book. Started off okay, but got really slow! I found I wanted desperately to get away from the main character, super dull life, and not at all positive. Ugh, was so happy for it to end. The one thing that I did like was all the references to Corvids. Many interesting facts at each chapter. That part was fun.

JCLChristiH Oct 21, 2014

I'd classify this story as more of a beautifully Gothic historical fiction that would appeal to bird enthusiasts and those who enjoy the details of early Downton Abbey era England.

b
bibliofinn
Jan 14, 2014

A satisfyingly dark and atmospheric Gothic tale, in which vaulting worldly ambition goes hand in hand with loss and clammy dread. But I wonder if the author was just a little too in love with her research into mid-Victorian funeral pomp. This would have worked as a long story or a novella, but at 300 pages it gets a bit sprawling and cluttered. One of the themes here is the arc of life and of story, but that arc itself isn't cleanly delineated in the telling. Not bad, just not as good as it could have been.

c
Carmccone
Jan 10, 2014

Captivating story-telling with well-crafted characters and luscious atmospheric prose. A wonderful read.

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