5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Bellman & Black (Hardcover)
Diane Setterfield's first novel; The Thirteenth Tale is one of my all-time favourite novels. I read it in hardback, when it was newly released in 2006, almost seven years ago and when I'm asked for book recommendations I always urge people to read it. It's a gothic tale, a book about books, a mystery, a ghost story - it's book-shaped perfection.
I went to hear Diane Setterfield talk about her writing, at Waterstone's in Lincoln, I think it was in the winter of 2007. I remember a very softly spoken lady who spoke eloquently, with a passion. She seemed to be more than a little overwhelmed by the success of her novel, a book that had taken many years to write and that had sat hidden away in her desk drawer for a long time before it was published. Although she mentioned that she was finding it quite difficult to produce her second novel, I don't think that any of us thought that it would be another six years before that much anticipated book would arrive.
At last, the second novel is here. Bellman & Black : A Ghost Story will be published by Orion Books on 10 October 2013.
I'll start with the cover design. It's really stunningly beautiful, conjuring up a ghostly, gothic read. The gold lettering along with the shadowy outline of the rook is eye-catching and is sure to stand out amongst the many books displayed on shelves.
And so, to the novel itself. This is probably one of the most difficult reviews that I've ever had to write. I actually finished the book over a week ago and have been thinking about what to write here ever since. As much as I really hate having to say this, I'm afraid that Bellman & Black was a huge disappointment to me. I'm really sad, I wanted to love it so much, but I didn't for many reasons. There is no doubt at all that Diane Setterfield writes very well, she can set a scene and her descriptions are vivid and quite hauntingly beautiful at times. The prologue is enticing, but actually doesn't tell much more than the accompanying blurb for the book. William Bellman kills a rook with his catapult, and this event changes his life, although at the time he does not realise this.
As William matures, everything he touches seems to turn to gold. He turns the family business around, he starts new and exciting ventures and succeeds. Yet his life is marred by loss and grief, with every success diluted by another disappointment. Funerals and mourning were important in Victorian times and the author's research is meticulous. The reader comes away with an insight into the best way to run a mill, how to set up and succeed in the mourning business and a great deal about rooks. Lots of information, but not a lot of story. It's a very slow read, it's full of description, but very little plot or exploration of the characters. I really wanted to know more about William and Dora, their inner feelings, their true feelings. The author seems to have concentrated more on scene setting and atmosphere, which is very well done but there has to be a plausible story to go with it.
So, there it is. One of my most difficult reviews, and one that I really wish was very different. I have to be honest though, as much as it hurts. I'm positive that there will be readers who really enjoy this story, I really hope that there are.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 Oct 2013 09:45:46 BDT
Madeleine C-W says:
An honest review; my copy is on its way and I desperately hope that I enjoy it. Like you I loved her first book and have been periodically checking on Anazon whether she'd written her second and pre-ordered it as soon as I saw she had!
Posted on 10 Oct 2013 11:08:35 BDT
Lincs Reader says:
Hi Madeleine. I really hope that you enjoy it - I would be interested to hear your thoughts when you've finished it.
Posted on 21 Oct 2013 12:01:26 BDT
Last edited by the author on 21 Oct 2013 12:01:35 BDT
D. Harris says:
I agree with your review. In the end, I was left wanting to know more about dora and less - much less - about William!
In reply to an earlier post on 30 Oct 2013 11:09:39 GMT
K. Clarke says:
I've been eagerly awaiting her new book too, I really loved her first! Shame when a second book is a let-down, but I'll give it a go and see what I think.
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