Diane Setterfield: Bellman & Black

by Rachel Baker on December 12, 2013

I was very excited when I had an opportunity to read this book. I’d waited with bated breath the read the next Diane Setterfield book, after thoroughly enjoying The Thirteenth Tale.

I didn’t really enjoy Bellman & Black at all. The writing was fine, in fact in few places there was flashes of brilliance. The prose is exactly as I expect a Setterfield book to be. The story though, was well, boring with too many tells. I felt no desire to rush through things I had to get done before going back to the book, and this was a great disappointment.

I have since started reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (P.S.) and there’s a forward by Anna Quindlen. Something in this forward made me think of Bellman & Black

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is not the sort of book that can be reduced to its plot line. The best anyone can say is that it is a story about what it means to be human.

This is sort of how I feel about Bellman & Black. I couldn’t begin to tell you what its about. I didn’t really understand the whole ghost story that was referenced on the summary/book jacket; and if one wants to acknowledge this as a ghost story, one would have to say it was thinly veiled take on A Christmas Carol (which would make it an interesting coincidence that the publishing date is a month before Christmas).

If I think about the Quindlen quote, I have to acknowledge that well, maybe, just maybe, this is an extremely well written story. Honestly, because it is about a man who seems very unassuming and unemotional, it seems as if this is more of a character study than a full-on novel with a plot. We take a look at the guys life starting from when he killed a rook to the end. Its a study of how that one action may have affected his life and more specifically his mind and how he dealt with other things like death.

Upon further consideration, there’s short stories I can remember reading that are written in sort of the same way – character study of someone’s life from a specific point in said characters life to another point (sometimes, death). Nothing of significance really happens other than the usual advancement in human life and age, but looking at how the character deals with milestones and what not is the whole topic of the story.

I guess I would say I felt that Bellman & Black is one really long short story with no real plot line and an unclear ghost story that wasn’t really a ghost story as much as maybe just the main character’s mind’s reaction to something he’d done as a child, and the association of other things in his life to that moment.

In fairness, maybe I’m not at the point in my life where this book makes sense to me.

I’d probably recommend this book but only to people who like reading character studies, and maybe even to those that like reading biographies – which are really stories about being human and living life (albeit, many are special lives, but they are still just living their life).

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