Review Blog

Nov 22 2013

Bellman and Black by Dianne Setterfield

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Orion, 2013. ISBN 9781409128052.
(Age: 15+) Recommended. Ghosts. Gothic fiction. A strange story of death, loss and tragedy follows the life of William Bellman, who as a young boy killed a glossy black rook with a catapult. This action has disastrous repercussions throughout his life. Seemingly well established as an adult with a loved wife and children, he is faced with devastating losses with the death of his friends and family. At each funeral he sees a man in black and when he is left with only one child, his beloved daughter, Dora, he strikes a strange bargain with the mysterious Mr Black.
This is a beautifully written, suspenseful story that relies on a subtle story line for its effect. There are no elaborate descriptions of ghosts, rather the writer compels the reader to imagine what is going to happen and the consequences that Bellman's actions will take. This restrained approach is clever and haunting and leaves a lasting impression and questions about the impact that one small cruel action can make. Mr Black and the strange rooks are seen only occasionally, and this builds up the suspense about what might occur.
Along the way, the reader becomes immersed in the Victorian world of Bellman, first at the mill where he makes fabric and later at the store of Bellman and Black where every item needed for the proper mourning of a loved one can be found. The funeral customs of Victorian times and the idea of an emporium full of clothing, jet jewellery and the use of black horse-drawn hearses are fascinating.
Readers who enjoyed Her fearful symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger and Falling angels by Tracy Chevalier will enjoy this eerie ghost story.
Pat Pledger

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