Book review: Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield

The book:

Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield
Published in 2013 by Orion
Pages: 320
My version: Library


The blurb:

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As a boy, William Bellman commits one small cruel act that appears to have unforeseen and terrible consequences. The killing of a rook with his catapult is soon forgotten amidst the riot of boyhood games. And by the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, he seems indeed, to be a man blessed by fortune.

Until tragedy strikes, and the stranger in black comes, and William Bellman starts to wonder if all his happiness is about to be eclipsed. Desperate to save the one precious thing he has left, he enters into a bargain. A rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner, to found a decidedly macabre business.

And Bellman & Black is born.

My thoughts…

I read – and loved – The Thirteenth Tale earlier this year, and went to the library to pick up Setterfield’s second novel straight away. I did put off reading it for a while as I think I was nervous it wouldn’t live up to her first – and ultimately this was the case in the main!

This really is a novel of two halves. At the start we are introduced to William Bellfield who, when playing with friends aged ten, inadvertently kills a crow. We then follow him in the coming years as he grows up and starts to work in his family’s cloth mill. He thrives in this environment and business is booming – until tragedy strikes.

I really enjoyed this first half of the novel. The historical setting worked well and I liked the character of William. I didn’t even mind reading about the workings of the mill.

But then around halfway through the book, William’s life starts to fall apart and, following a creepy encounter, he starts up a new business. This is when the book started to go downhill for me somewhat. Not enough really happened in this section and I found the book dragged as we got bogged down in too much detail about William’s new business venture. The creepy element of the book never really came together and I found myself skimming sections.

Although this book was well written, and there was a lot I liked about it, I was definitely disappointed overall. The second half of the novel didn’t quite work for me and more needed to be made of the ghostly element of the novel.

My rating: 6.5 out of 10

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3 comments

  1. Very much how I felt about this one too. The whole supernatural thing never really goes anywhere, and while I did find a lot of the stuff about the emporium interesting, I felt there was basically no plot, just a lot of research being thrown at the reader. Pity!

    Liked by 1 person

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