Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story

Bellman & Black - Diane Setterfield I had waited with some anticipation for Diane Setterfield’s new novel, BELLMAN & BLACK. Unfortunately, I was greatly disappointed. The novel, set in Victorian England, is the story of William Bellman who we first meet as a young boy when he carelessly kills a common blackbird – a rook. This event is pivotal and foreshadows the rest of the novel including the final, fairly predictable, ending.

The book follows Bellman through life. A likeable and ambitious young man, he is employed by his uncle at the family mill. At this juncture, I hit my first wall. Description ad infinitum of the workings of the mill bogs the story down in boring detail. The tale picks up a little when Bellman marries and has children, but it doesn’t last. His character is so one dimensional that even the multiple tragedies he endures could not move me. This lack of emotional response derives, in part, from the fact that Ms. Setterfield tells the story mainly in narrative style and this really does not allow one to identify with or know what motivates the character. As a result, while the prose is beautiful, it comes off as flat and, unfortunately, to this reader, dull. The novel became so tedious that I put it down for a week or so and finally had to force myself to finish it.

Therefore, in conclusion, while I loved Ms. Setterfield’s previous novel, THE THIRTEENTH TALE, I feel she falls far short of the mark with BELLMAN & BLACK and I cannot recommend it.