Monday, November 25, 2013

Mini review: 'Bellman & Black'

I don't know how much expectation played into my reaction to Diane Setterfield's Bellman & Black.  I was really looking forward to reading this book, and I'm afraid it was a bit of a letdown.

Billed as a ghost story, it was actually the story of a man who was haunted by death. Will Bellman is a happy fellow with a head for business, but when faced with death, he hallucinates a man at funerals (perhaps he hallucinates; no one else sees the figure). When faced with potentially losing his whole family to illness, Bellman believes he strikes a deal with the figure to create the greatest mourning shop in London. The bereaved can get every last need of Victorian mourning at the shop, which is called Bellman & Black (Will decided the man's name was Black).

Occasional chapters are interspersed with information about rooks, black birds that are seen throughout the story, including the one of the opening scenes, when Will, then 10 years old, kills a young rook with a slingshot.

I found the two parts of the book incongruous and tenuously linked, and I found no particular sense in Will Bellman's obsession with Mr. Black. The details of Victorian mourning practices was interesting, as was the information about rooks, but the whole thing just never jelled for me. I didn't get it.

Ah well. I will just have to wonder, as well, what I would have thought of the story if I had not awaited it with such anticipation and just started it fresh.

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