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

Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story

Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story

Diane Setterfield

My rating:

4 star

Goodreads summary:

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”

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This book intrigued me right from the start. I loved the writing style and the character and life of William. I haven’t read The Thirteenth Tale yet, so I wasn’t familiar with Diane’s writing style yet. This just made it an even more enticing read for me. Because let me tell you, the writing just makes it a joy to dive into the story. But in the end I did find the book to be a bit on the long side. It’s not that it really started to drag, but the flow of the story really slowed down. Another thing I really liked about this book is the short blurbs about the rooks and ravens.

Besides William there just aren’t a lot of characters in the book that the reader gets to know very well. But to me this really didn’t matter all that much because William seemed interesting enough. And I use the word seemed here with a reason. All throughout the book I kept waiting to get to know William but it just never really happened. It’s not that you’re kept completely in the dark about him but it stays pretty impersonal all the way through. I didn’t mind all that much because the story was interesting, but I think I would have been more engaged if the whole had been a bit more personal.

Though the story is advertised as a ghost story, I wasn’t scared anywhere throughout the book. At no point did I even get remotely close to being slightly frightened. That’s probably because this book is more of the Edgar Allen Poe ghost story, it’s all subliminal. But for me this was not even remotely close to that level though. Plot-wise not a lot of things happened in this book. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it’s perhaps not something everyone can appreciate.

I know I’m not sounding super enthusiastic about this book but in reality I did really like it. But there was definitely something missing in this book. This is just one of those books I’m not really used to reading and perhaps that’s why I don’t really know how to feel about Bellman & Black. There’s just a weird flow to the whole of the story and it stays strangely impersonal throughout the book. In general this is a very good book though.

2 thoughts on “Review: Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story – Diane Setterfield

  1. Nice review. This book appeared on the Goodread’s recommended list for me a while back but I wasn’t sure if I should pick it up. Since you liked it, I try to see if I can find it.

    • Thanks for putting so much stock in my opinion. I really hope you don’t end up hating this book now :p
      However, you won’t find this book anywhere before November 5th, because that’s when it’s being published (I got it as a review copy)

      If you ever end up reading this book, let me know what you thought :)

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