Review Written by: Shonda Wilson
Bellman & Black
Novel written by:Diane Setterfield
Pubished by Emily Bestler Books/Atria Books
Known for her subtle ventures into the unexplained and enchanting, author Diane Setterfield received national acclaim for her novel The Thirteenth Tale. Her new novel Bellman & Black, also caresses the veil between reality and fantasy with enough of both to allure any curmudgeon tired of the endless array of overly fantastical publications to give the book a shot. Bellman & Black is an airy and engrossing work of fiction that mixes the realities of village life and the enchantment of another world existing on top of the tangible and real. The characters are solid, honest, and flawed, while the language pulls the reader in mixing old and new without seeming forced in any way. I found Bellman & Black a perfect read for the start of summer vacation (one I am personally enjoying as it means a break from the pain of graduate work and constant due dates) and recommend it to anyone who longs to be transported to a different, yet familiar place.
The tale, phasing in and out between the life and work of William Bellman, his family, and his evolution into a distant, career obsessed, money driven man and a touch of gothic ghost story, always lingering in the periphery of the plot, draws the reader in with its intoxicating language and highly detailed depiction of small town mill life. William Bellman is a good man and a loving father and
husband who, throughout his young life, experienced a series of tragedies beginning with an absent father and family troubles regarding an imprudent marriage between said father and his determined, loving, and adored mother Dora. Despite setbacks, Bellman thrived, grew, overcame odds and although the deaths of his mother and beloved uncle/father-figure Paul deeply scarred William, he continued to grow, gain financial success, marry, and father a large and loving family.
Scattered amongst the normal tragedies and triumphs of life, are the rooks; ethereal and strange birds whose cries startle and appearance cause confusion and wonder for many of the characters in the text. The rook is the other in Bellman & Black, the rook is the darkness and the guilt of youthful ignorance, hubris, insolence, and death. William Bellman killed a young rook as a boy with a miraculously described catapult shot. That event, that common act of infallible youth is the pain in the pit of William’s stomach, the depression that haunts his sleep, the touch of death that always threatens Bellman’s complete happiness as everyone involved in the incident survives on the outskirts of life,pained and perplexed, haunted. William, never understanding the source of his deep emotional anguish,lives an active, fulfilling life until the rook catches up with Bellman as well manifested in the presence of Mr. Black. Black is the genius in Setterfield’s take on the Gothic and what I found fascinating and engrossing about the text. The book never slams the reader with HORROR or INSANITY, but instead toys with the mind as the haunt appears for a split second in the window, hovers over the earth as an unearthly shadow, and stands at the edge of the crowd in black with regular mourners of the dead. Even when the darkness is real and Mr. Black exists as a torment, a reminder, a business partner slowly punishing Bellman for his past transgressions, driving him further away from security, sanity, and forcing him to remember. Bellman & Black is a novel about avoidance, suffering, and guilt, but more importantly Setterfield with her subtle accents of darkness and fascination, depicts life with all its joys and tragedies combined.