Monday, November 4, 2013

Review: Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

I don't remember being any more conflicted with a review rating as I am with Diane Setterfield's latest Bellman & Black. On one hand it's beautifully written and on the other, I just felt so hollow inside upon finishing it. After reading rave reviews for her bestseller The Thirteenth Tale I may have set the bar too high but... where can you go wrong when the word Ghost is a part of its title?

William Bellman is 11 when the story begins and progresses with him as an adult. Everything about Bellman appears normal. He's a successful businessman, neither nice or mean, and appears to have a rather good life. All is well besides the fact that one by one people begin to die around him. At first the deaths are at all implausible, but after seeing a man in black at each funeral, could there be something else entirely at play?

Diane Setterfield's voice in Bellman & Black flows evenly and is quite absorbing. The story feels as if someone is speaking directly to me in recounting a man's whole life and how he became haunted after killing a rook as a child. Setterfield makes it almost impossible to not want to read further.

My main issues for this literary novel mainly stem from how flat I found the character Bellman to be. He's even described by other townsfolk to be a man who could go either way. Because of his flatness, I almost missed where his decline into madness began to take shape. This is not from unclear writing but rather I didn't really care anymore. His daughter Dora seemed a lot more compelling. 

Most times when someone reads a ghost story the element of suspense should be present. There is never a strong sense of tension. At the least there should be one mangled hand reaching from the mill dye scaring the pants off of one character. Sadly...that's never the case with this title. Oh how I missed the running then falling scene. 

Overall I'm interested in reading more by Diane Setterfield and will read The Thirteenth Tale although I am conflicted with my feelings toward Bellman & Black. I only hope the next book I read that says it's a ghost story will actually be that, a ghost story. ***

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