Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield (4 out of 5)
William Bellman, in a moment of childish whimsy, nails a rook on a branch with his slingshot. Being a child, the moment is fleeting and quickly forgotten. Fast forward years later and William is married with a family of his own. Things take a strange turn when a stranger enters William’s life and his charmed life begins to turn into a tea born of revenge and karma. William’s family perishes due to the onset of a mysterious disease. To turn the tides back to good fortune, William makes a deal with the devil and goes into the most unlikely of businesses. He moves to London and pours himself into his work and solitude, in an attempt to right his wrongs and forget his losses, which somehow all end up back at the killing of the rook on that day in the English countryside.
Everything I read about this book said it was reminiscent of Dickens. Oh yes, yes, it is. Likely that took a star off of it, because I am NOT a Charles Dickens fan, and there are elements of him here, in the plot and the haunted persona that William takes on after his family is taken from him, and he devotes himself to a new love- work and the odd business that he now runs. It’s as if Scrooge met up with Mrs. Havisham and they spun into one high waist-coated character. However, I enjoyed William’s inner turmoil and darkness, which I cannot say for many of the characters that Charles Dickens wrote in his lifetime.
There isn’t much emotion in this book. Some reviews I had read were devastated at the lack of emotion. Dickens was known for not having his characters be emotional basketcases, so I am not surprised that Setterfield went in that direction. As many reviewers who were bitching about that fact on Goodreads, The Jungle Dwelling, and other book sites, I really enjoyed that fact. It fit in perfectly with the overall tone and setting of this novel. If you have such a dark story, why the hell would you have William be weeping and orating at the unfairness of it, instead of internalizing it and going about his business? The man is clearly haunted and believes his killing of the rook resulted in the karma taking his family. That’s a plot device that’s well known, and I think Setterfield uses it effectively here.
It’s not a sunshine and apple cider novel. If you believe it is, well, you will be solely disappointed. If you believe it will tread in the same worn path of her last novel, The Thirteenth Tale, well, then you will be disappointed. However, I thought this was an excellent book. It’s like nothing I have read so far this year, and that’s definitely one of the reasons I’m giving it 4 stars. I loved it, I read it quickly, and it was a riveting read, despite it’s non-cheery demeanor. If the atmosphere didn’t match the dark drapes in the study, I would call it a cop-out. Nothing could be further from the truth. I enjoyed this book quite a bit.