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Bellman & Black: A Novel Hardcover – November 5, 2013

3.1 out of 5 stars 298 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This poetic and mysterious novel by the author of The Thirteenth Tale (2006) tells of William Bellman, who we first meet as a boy out with his friends in the English countryside. William impresses his companions by killing a rook with his slingshot, and as the years go by, he continues to impress. A winning young man with a knack for business, he rises to the top of a local mill, marries and has four bright children, and expects all of his days to be equally blessed. Then disease comes to his town. It takes his wife and three of his children, and, in desperation, William makes a deal with a black-coated stranger. His eldest daughter is spared, but William is unable to face reminders of his happy past. He pours himself into industry, moving to London and opening Bellman & Black. As the years fly by, William becomes a kind of Ebenezer Scrooge, obsessed with work and haunted by the appearance of crows, and Setterfield is our Dickensian conscience, reminding us of what coins can and cannot buy. --Lynn Weber


“Setterfield is at her enchanting best. Undoubtedly one of the most amazing books I have come across this year. ” (One Reader A Thousand Lives, blog)

“Flawless… The Thirteenth Tale was an especially well-written book, [Bellman and Black] really is – as I said earlier – even better.… You will love it. YOU WILL. Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year.” (bluestalkingjournal.wordpress.com)

“Poetic and mysterious.” (Booklist)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books; First Edition edition (November 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 147671195X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476711959
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (298 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #534,461 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Shannon L. Yarbrough VINE VOICE on November 4, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Like so many others, I've been waiting years for Diane Setterfield's second book after how much I loved The Thirteenth Tale. Through those years, I've still thought about that book and suggested it to so many others who read it and loved it just as much as I did. I rejoiced when a random search one day this year came upon the news of Setterfield's long-awaited follow-up, hoping it'd be just as good, if not better. But as you can tell from my one star rating, that wasn't so.

Bellman & Black is the story of a businessman, and a very long detailed story at that. We meet Bellman as a young boy when he goes to work in a mill that he will one day own, and eventually maturing into a smart businessman who decides to open a lustrous and meticulously planned out emporium for those in mourning, sparked by the death of his wife and children.

It's almost as if Setterfield became Bellman and got so wrapped up in the business and forgot about an entertaining storyline. The majority of the book is pages and pages of detailed information about how a mill works and operates, retail transactions, vendor relationships, outsourcing, customer service, human resources, ledgers and accounting, and financial banter. On and on and on we see Bellman in a Dickensian way obsess over his business and money.

The "ghost story" aspect of the story is minute at that and involves the other partner in the business, Black. Setterfield also tries desperately to tease the reader along with end notes in various chapters about the mysticism of black birds known as rooks. These are actually some of the best parts of the book, reflecting her whimsical style we fell in love with in her first book. But they fall short and just leave the reader confused in the end. As for Black, he becomes an afterthought.
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Format: Kindle Edition
William Bellman is ten years old when, whilst out playing with his friends and cousin, he boasts that he can hit a rook with his catapault. The boys all believe that the rook will rise at the last moment - they all watch the stone as it falls and kills the bird. The moment stays in the back of William's mind, but life continues. The first half of the book follows this life; through childhood and then working his uncle's mill, through marriage and fatherhood. William Bellman is a driven man and, it seems, that all he touches becomes successful. Yet, there is a price to be paid for this success. Before long, tragedy strikes and, it seems that at every funeral, there is a man in black. William can barely recall his face or features, but he has a vague memory and a fleeting impression of seeing him. One day, William finally talks to him and makes some kind of half remembered agreement, a promise, a deal...

The second half of the novel turns to William Bellman turning his energies to a mourning emporium - named, as is the title of the book, Bellman & Black. Again, it seems that he has energy only for his work and, again, as with the mill, this too will become a huge commercial and financial success.

This long awaited novel by the author of "The Thirteenth Tale" is a dark and tragic read about the price of happiness. It is called a ghost story but it is more the story of a life that is haunted than of a ghost. Rooks appear in many guises and, as the narrator reminds us, they have many collective nouns: a building of rooks, a parliament of rooks, a clamour and a storytelling. It is rooks which obsess Bellman's daughter, Dora. Rooks which caw and cawl and sweep overhead.
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Format: Kindle Edition
When he was 10, William Bellman made a bet with his friends that he could hit a rook with a stone from his catapult. As the stone arced through the air, he realised he didn't want to kill the bird - but too late. The deed was done. And this act of mindless cruelty follows him through his life...

A strange book, this one. The blurb promises a Victorian ghost story, but instead we get a very lengthy and detailed description of one man's life as he forges a successful career first as the manager of a cloth factory and later as he strikes out to create his own unique emporium in the centre of London. The use of language is skilful, occasionally beautiful, and the story of William's trials ought to have made it an emotional read, but somehow it fails. Even at the darkest point of the story, I was left entirely unmoved. On consideration, I think this is because William himself is a cold character, who uses work as a shield to protect himself from facing the very human problems life throws at him. It's clear that we are supposed to assume that William feels strongly, particularly about his family, but nothing in his actions or thoughts shows us that. And I got very tired of hearing about how he saw everything as a calculation, with the constant repetition of the words add, subtract, multiply and divide.

As the book progresses and William becomes ever more successful, richer, and yet retreats more and more from life, this reminded me of the story of Scrooge, prior to his ghostly visitations. But where A Christmas Carol has humour, fear and ultimately redemption, Bellman & Black has none of these.
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