Monday, December 30, 2013

Book Review: Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story by Diane Setterfield
Source: eARC (via Atria/Netgalley)
My rating: 3 of 5 stars :star :star :star

A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Actual Rating: 3.5 stars

I went into reading Bellman & black with a lot of anticipation. It's not often that an adult fiction book calls to me to the point that I want to read it as soon as I can. From reading the blurb I got the impression it was the story of a man who makes a Faustian pact and thereby loses his soul or something. I wasn't too clear but in my mind I was sure he did a deal with the devil, and was sort of picturing a Daniel Webster type character. But I have to point out that This isn't a book with supernatural elements.

The story starts with William Bellman as a boy with his group of friends playing outside. They take turns shooting at things with their slingshots. In the trees there's a rook (it's like a crow, and they play a big part in this book). Anyway, William boasts that he can hit the rook out of the tree, but it's so far and high no one believes him. As William takes out his meticulously crafted slingshot the boys stare in awe did he do it?! The rook dies and Bellman goes home a man, each boy goes home haunted.

Basically the entire book is William Bellman's life story. He's a very strange sort of man; very hard working and practical, to a fault (in my opinion). We get to know his family and different people in the town. As he grows older and begins working at his uncle's mill things begin to change. The story progresses but we still don't hear of the devil or any Faustian pact. As it is, they don't appear at all in the story. Although there was a deal (of an ambiguous sort) that was made, the details of the deal were never clear (even to Bellman himself).

I had high hopes for the end of the book. By this time I was extremely invested in the characters; particularly Bellman and his daughter Dora. I was really expecting some fantastic ending-- especially for someone who led such a fascinating and sad life, like Bellman. What I got was far from what I wanted.

I'm still puzzling over the end of this book. I thought waiting several days to mull things over before I wrote my review would help things, but it hasn't. I'm just as confused, angry, sad, and bitter as I was when I finished. Now I'm not saying that all books need a happy ending. Far from it. Life doesn't deliver happy endings to everyone; and especially with a story like this where it closely follows someone's entire life, you can't always get a happy ending. However, I felt confused at the end. I was sad about how we didn't get to hear much of what happened to Dora either. All in all, I would give the ending 1 star. I hated it It didn't work for me.

The writing was magnificent, and the character development was spot-on. But it was way too melancholy for my taste-- especially when the ending was sad too. I need at least some silver lining in my sad books, you know? Otherwise you're left with a feeling of wanting to kill yourself bang your head against the wall. The ending just didn't sit well with me, and it would've rated this book 4.5 stars except for the ending I had to cut 1 star it was that disappointing. I still enjoyed the book though, and will keep an eye out for the author's future titles.

As far as who I think would love this book-- those who like great fiction and don't mind a depressing stories.

(view spoiler)


  1. I loved this book even though I would have liked more of Dora. I enjoy an unreliable narrator and found Bellman's life to be fascinating. I agree her writing is beautiful.

    1. I agree. I would've loved more of Dora too! And that ending... :|| lol

  2. I'm so glad you pointed out there were no supernatural elements! I expected that for some reason. I really enjoyed her first book THE THIRTEENTH TALE and want to read this for sure, but maybe having the right expectations for what the story is about will help. I'm glad you liked it overall. Not clicking on that spoiler is HARD, though. :P

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

    1. Lol! Yes I really think you'd like this one Wendy! ;) I haven't read The Thirteenth Tale but after reading this I really want to! :tup
      You must let me know how u like it if you do read it


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