As a boy, William Bellman commits one small, cruel act: killing a bird with his slingshot. Little does he know the unforeseen and terrible consequences of the deed, which is soon forgotten amidst the riot of boyhood games. By the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, William seems to be a man blessed by fortune - until tragedy strikes and the stranger in black comes. Then he starts to wonder if all his happiness is about to be eclipsed. Desperate to save the one precious thing he has left, William enters into a rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner, to found a decidedly macabre business.
And Bellman & Black is born.
©2013 Diane Setterfield (P)2013 Simon & Schuster
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I loved Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, and I was eager to devoir her next work. What Setterfield has produced here is, in my opinion, a work less enjoyable to read and yet similarly well worth reading.
Let me explain.
This is not a mystery in any sense, but rather a classic Gothic novel, working out its dark message with all the unflinching inevitability of works such as Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of Seven Gables. From the moment 11-year-old William Bellman pointlessly kills a young rook with his slingshot, the reader knows things will go badly for him. As he labors to build his adult life -- with loving wife, healthy children, and thriving business -- the reader realizes he will rise to heights only to fall. Not once was I surprised at what befell Bellman. That is not necessarily a criticism. We don't watch the proverbial train wreck because we think the tracks will mysteriously reroute themselves at the last minute; we watch the proverbial train wreck for the edifying and horrifying majesty of the collision.
For that matter, there is something hauntingly reassuring in the idea -- even as it damns all of us -- that actions, however small and thoughtless, have consequences.
Just as, in the proverbial train wreck, watching the long lead-up to the tragedy has a certain oppressive inevitability that frustrates and wears at the nerves, so too does the bulk of Bellman and Black. This is why, despite Setterfield's gorgeous prose, it is not an enjoyable read. Once the reader completes the work and gains a bit of distance, though, it comes into full focus.
Drawing from folklore and legend about rooks, Setterfield stresses thought and memory as the two most terrible costs of Bellman's childhood act of murder: for the last long portion of his life, Bellman thinks only of death as he painstakingly builds Bellman & Black's to be London's premiere mourning emporium; he loses all memory of the happy home he knew with his family and the satisfying work he accomplished at the mill. His daughter, his sole remaining tie to humanity, grows to adulthood without his attention or awareness.
Setterfield expertly twines the narrative around different aspects of the mysterious, wise, and vengeful rook, using the various collective nouns for the birds -- a parish of rooks, a clamor of rooks, an unkindness of rooks, a parliament of rooks, and ultimately a storytelling of rooks -- as both an underlying theme of and a commentary on various sections of the story. The chilling final note of the book, that we short-lived and fallible humans are an entertainment, puts Bellman and his fall in proper context from a rook's perspective.
I appreciate Setterfield's artistry in the organization and symbolic depth of her tale, as well as her admirable restraint in the supernatural aspects of the story. If you're looking to fall in love with charming characters or be caught up breathlessly in an unfolding mystery, look elsewhere. But for a sobering, bleak, and carefully crafted tale about the human condition written in the great Gothic tradition, you need look no further.
Jack Davenport provided a solid narration for this novel.
Not everyone will like this one, but I did. I love how Diane Setterfield takes books like Jane Eyer in the Thirteenth Tale and now Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven and constructs a new story around the same premise. If you don't get "The Raven" you probably won't get Bellman and Black. The story is so well done. It is a slow moving story of the life of William Bellman. He spends half of his life in pursuit of riches, but at what price? The Raven's sorrowful words of "never more" are brought to mind over and over again. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It makes me want to enjoy the relationships of those around me and never take a moment for granted of the time I have with those I hold so dear.
Favorite books. The Seven Waters Trilogy, The Kingkiller Chronicles, The Alchemyst Nicholas Flamel.
I was so looking forward to this new release from Diane Setterfield as The Thirteenth Tale was so very good...but sadly this book was boring and predictable. I kept waiting to find out what "the point" was to this tale, but that's the problem, there isn't a point. It was dark, but without an interesting storyline. I kept falling asleep. After The Thirteenth Tale, I just could not make myself give up on the story, but I never felt the satisfaction that I understood what the story was about other then a sad and depressing tale of a man's sad and depressing life.
Yes, and I am hopeful that she'll thrill us with an intriguing and complex story such as she did with The Thirteenth Tale.
The highlight of the book! His voice was perfect for the character and that alone was the only thing that was done right.
Yes. Setterfield's prose is exquisite. She weaves dark sensual landscapes and folklore into a rich narrative.
The imagery created by the author's prose and the characters.
He is excellent.
No, but I developed an intimacy with the characters and a sadness in response to their suffering.
Although the plot is not as clever as her previous work, she still held me spellbound.
Jack Davenport has a smooth, deep, silky voice that is perfect for creating an air of menace and foreboding, which is perfect for this story. He does a first-rate job.
I loved the thirteenth tale so I probably will give the author one more try.
this book tried too hard to be mysterious but the story was so bogged down with the minutia of bellman's daily life. halfway in I didn't care what happened to anybody.
I think he did a great job with a bad book.
I am easily amused!
This is an absolutely extraordinary book by a brilliant author. Don't miss it. Absolutely spellbinding! The narration is done by Jack Davenport who lends the perfect voice for the characters. Although to be honest I could listen to Davenport read a phone book and be perfectly content.
I looked forward to reading another book from this author of The Thirteenth Tale. However,I did not enjoy Bellman and Black. Very slow and somewhat predictable story. I frequently had to go back and relisten to parts because my mind would wander.
Authors I like: Patrick O'Brian, Frederick Forsyth, Jane Austen, John Le Carre, Alan Furst, Jon Krakauer, Ernest Hemingway.
I don't mind a long, slow book as long as something ultimately is happening. Heck, I read Moby Dick cover to cover and loved it. But Bellman & Black drags on and on and just doesn't ever bend the bar. Its theme is borrowed from Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" and it comes off as a bit of a sermon, actually. A long, slow sermon told in painstaking detail.
Children's Librarian in Boulder, CO.
I think they're comparable. I'm one of those readers who can flip between the two media easily. In this particular case, I would say that between Jack Davenport's voice, and Diane Setterfield's writing, you really can't lose.
I liked the way Setterfield tied the Rook in. After reading The Thirteenth Tale and now Bellman & Black, I'm confident that her next book will be worth reading. I do also love that she doesn't throw profanity and sex around as if they are the only way to write a good adult novel.
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