Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bellman & Black

Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield tells the story of William Bellman, born in England during what feels like the Victorian era. (Funny, I'm not sure the book actually listed any dates, although I could have overlooked it.)

The story opens with a scenes from Bellman's youth. He becomes a leader among his peers when he hits a rook (crow/raven) from a long distance using his slingshot. From that moment on it seems William is the golden boy on whom good fortune smiles.

Bellman is the nephew of the town's biggest industry, a woolen mill. His cousin has no interest in taking over the family business and so William is introduced to the day in, day out working of the mill. He flourishes in the environment bringing with him new ideas, improvements and increased business for the mill. He marries and has a family. It seems William Bellman has the Midas touch.

He does suffer losses along the way. A friend passes. His mother dies. And at each of these occasions, Bellman espies a mysterious man in black whose presence in the graveyard unsettles him.

When a deadly disease ravages his town and family, killing his youngest children, his wife, and hovering over his eldest daughter, Bellman strikes up a desperate conversation with this mysterious Mr. Black in the dark, delirium of night among the tombstones. Ready to sacrifice himself to spare his daughter, Bellman makes a deal.

And that will bring you to the half-way point of the book.

What happens in the second half is at once fascinating (in looking back at one possibility for how the funeral industry may have gotten its start) and appalling (in what happens to the character of William Bellman).

Setterfield's writing is engaging and entertaining. She intersperses chapters (titled by ampersands!) which talk about the nature of rooks and the naming of groups of them. These chapters encourage readers to think about the role that the birds are playing throughout the rest of the story about William Bellman.

Because the book itself says it is "A Ghost Story"--I was expecting something a little more paranormal and a little less philosophical. In that respect, I was a tad disappointed. However, I think readers will find the novel engaging and will want to discover what is the meaning(s) of the title and how William Bellman's life unfolds.

Coming Next: Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani

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