Monday, September 30, 2013

ARC Review: Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield

Bellman and Black
by Diane Setterfield
Expected publication: November 5th 2013 by Atria/Emily Bestler Books 

My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars


Caught up in a moment of boyhood competition, William Bellman recklessly aims his slingshot at a rook resting on a branch, killing the bird instantly. It is a small but cruel act, and is soon forgotten. By the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, William seems to have put the whole incident behind him. It was as if he never killed the thing at all. But rooks don’t forget... 

Years later, when a stranger mysteriously enters William’s life, his fortunes begin to turn—and the terrible and unforeseen consequences of his past indiscretion take root. In a desperate bid to save the only precious thing he has left, he enters into a rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner. Together, they found a decidedly macabre business. 

And Bellman & Black is born.

There are times that you wonder when exactly something had gone wrong and what you could have done to change it. Diane Setterfield, in her second book Bellman and Black, explores this very thought.

Before you continue reading, a word of warning: Do not read this book if you are feeling depressed or down in any way. It fosters quite a bit of retrospection and if you are not in the right frame of mind, it can become rather uncomfortable. It took me a while to get through it, not because it is badly written (far from it!), but because the subject matter is quite heavy.

I did enjoy this book because of all of the references to Nordic lore and the strange penchant the Victorians had with death. Both these people celebrated death as we now celebrate life. A funeral was a weirdly festive time, looked forward to as much as a wedding or a birth. And the intricate ceremonies that accompanied the "festivities" underlined that importance.

William Bellman had a sad childhood from the start. Abandoned by all his family except his mother and uncle, he slowly, throughout his life, lost everyone he loved under the strangest circumstances. Through it all, he plows on, burying himself in his work while neglecting everything else.

There was a glimmer of hope for him at the first, but that little show of pride and bravado which resulted in a death, seemed to tinge his life afterward. It makes you wonder: if he had chosen to do otherwise, would his life been as tragic? If there was a little remorse shown for that death, would it have been easier? Karma comes to mind. Perhaps the ancients were right in praying for the animals they hunted then thanking them for sustaining life.

All those rooks were a foreshadow of what was to come - the inevitable pain and sorrow that is part of life. It is strange that all cultures both fear and revere these black birds while, at the same time, acknowledge their wisdom in acceptance of what life doles out.

Diane Setterfield labeled this a ghost story although there was nothing really scary about it as in the tradition of Stephen King and company. At best, it could be described as slightly creepy. However, by the end, you realize that there were ghosts indeed, the ones that William Bellman himself carried within him. These ghosts were why he buried himself in his businesses, why he was so fanatical about his notes, and why he was such a workaholic. His ghost was named Black.

There is a William Bellman in each of us. Distractions at work, fear of being alone, the ability to bury memories so we don't have to face consequences - these are our ghosts as well as his. Thought and Memory, Odin's pet rooks, resurrect these ghosts and force us to face them head on.

I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

No comments:

Post a Comment