DNF Review: Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Title: Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story
Author: Diane Setterfield
Genre: paranormal, gothic

Series: N/A
Pages: 328
Published: November 5 2013
Source: publishes via NetGalley
Rating: 2/5 -- DNF

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" . . 
To say that I was looking forward to Diane Setterfield's second novel is an understatement. Her debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale, was the first Gothic story I'd ever really loved and I'd been anticipating a follow-up from this talented author for yeeaaars. So when news of Bellman & Black came out, I was more than excited and grateful to receive an ARC. And once I began reading, I knew lightning was not going to strike twice for me and Ms. Setterfield. 

My issues became apparent early on and can be broken down easily:

  • the POV is too distant
  • the first portion too focused on dry and uninteresting material
  • the characters are too remote in their presentation
  • nothing really happens for significant tracts of time

It's all relayed to the reader and shown in pretty prose, but still this was still a drag to read. The story never clicked the way The Thirteenth Tale managed to from the first chapter. The characters were a big part of that issue, but the story suffers when the author chooses to focus so closely on mills and William Bellman's years of work there.

A lot of readers and critics and reviewers seem to love this, so my opinion is certainly not universal. If you enjoyed Diane Setterfield's previous novel, it's at least worth a try. Just go into the story with lowered expectations and have a lot of patience for a veeery slow-building plot. Certainly, you'll need more time and patience than I had --- I could only make it 30% before I had to admit defeat.

In the end, I was:

I was:
  • bored
  • confused
  • unconnected
  • disinterested

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review. I know a lot of people feel it is unfair to review a book you didn't finish, but I disagree. If I can't finish a book, and I've given it a fair shot, I think it is just as important to let readers know that as it is to let them know when I've found a '5-star' book!


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