Review: Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story ~ Diane Setterfield

Bellman & BlackBellman & 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” . . .

2 Thumbs-UpAfter having read The Thirteenth Tale, I picked up this book with some trepidation as well as hope that this Author would have developed her writing style and character development into something a little more enjoyable.  However, for those readers picking up this book and expecting the ghost story mentioned in the title, they will be disappointed.  It does have ghostly elements to it, but not enough to make it the ghost story some may be expecting when they open its covers.

In deciding to read this book, one of my main hopes was that the Author would have invested more time and energy into the development of her characters; unfortunately this was not the case.  The main character was as flat and emotionless as the paper upon which he was written, and I found no redeeming traits that would lift my opinion of him as I progressed through the book.  Because of his lack of personality I almost missed a major event in this characters story that was an integral part of the plot and, to be quite honest I really couldn’t care less about his decline by the time this incident took place.  With some of the other characters it appeared as if the Author had invested more time in developing them, but even this could not save this book and turn it around.  The dialogue was pretentious to the point of not reflecting the time period accurately, and every time someone spoke it was more an irritating buzz in my mind rather than something that would propel the storyline to its conclusion

If you are interested in the intricate details of the day-to-day running of a mill, then this is the book for you as page after page is filled with descriptions of how to run and manage a successful business in this area.  In fact the novel goes into so much detail that I felt as if I could manage the task of running one of these mills myself, but overall it just became boring and monotonous to the point where I actually started to skip these paragraphs.

After having now read two of this Authors works, I doubt very much if I will read anymore; because of this and the disappointment I felt at the underdevelopment of what could have been a gripping ghost story in the true sense of the word, I am reluctant to recommend this book to anyone.