Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story
Author: Diane Setterfield
Genre: literary fiction, historical fiction, paranormal/magical realism
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Goodreads Summary: As a boy, William Bellman commits one small, cruel act: killing a bird with his slingshot. Little does he know the unforeseen and terrible consequences of the deed, which is soon forgotten amidst the riot of boyhood games. By the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, William seems to be a man blessed by fortune—until tragedy strikes and the stranger in black comes. Then he starts to wonder if all his happiness is about to be eclipsed. Desperate to save the one precious thing he has left, William enters into a rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner, to found a decidedly macabre business.
And Bellman & Black is born.
Bellman & Black is a very quiet book. Not much really happens, but that's because it doesn't need to. The story is chilling, but never horrifying or grotesque. There is simply the feeling of a dark shadow in the corner that never leaves, or of someone staring at you from behind. Quiet, but chilling.
When William Bellman was a boy, he threw a stone in a beautiful arc and felled a rook. He promptly forgot about this miraculous act, but the other boys never did. They whispered about the rook and William's luck and skill. They continued to whisper as Will became one of the most efficient and best mill-owners in the area. Then people begin to die.
Bellman meets Black, and then the story really begins.
I really enjoyed the atmosphere of this book - I can't quite describe it, but there was something eery but beautiful about it. There were so many little details that brought this story to life. Something about it reminded me of Nathaniel Hawthorne's short stories - based in reality with a hint of the dark and supernatural thrown in.
The anecdotes about rooks were very entertaining and cleverly spread out throughout the story. I feel like this is the kind of book you read more than once, so that you can catch all the subtleties you missed the first time around. It's beautifully written, and the story itself is very intriguing.
You have to be a bit patient with this book, though. The titular Black doesn't even appear until about a third of the way through the book, and as I mentioned before, not much really happens. If you think of it as being a leaf pushed by a lazy river - you won't see much, but you'll get somewhere eventually.
I highly recommend this book!
*An e-copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*