Review: Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield


4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

It is rather difficult to write a review for this book for some reason, because not much really happened.

That is not to say that it was a dull book, but the story progresses very slowly. The book begins with a young William Bellman, and slowly takes the reader through his life: from the start of the story where he kills a rook, through his advancement at the mill, through all the deaths and hardships of his life and on to the opening of his mourning emporium, Bellman & Black. And throughout his life, a mysterious figure, dressed all in black.

Although the book is snail-paced, it works very well for showing William’s character and nature: inquisitive and curious, hard-working and dedicated. The reader also gets a feel for how William’s life feels, with the people he loves dying all around him, whilst he still fights on. What’s most interesting is that, despite the book feeling this way, it skips over big chunks of time – one minute William is just a young boy, the next he is nearly twenty years old, then suddenly in his thirties.

The chapters are interspersed with facts about rooks, occasionally hinting at how rooks never forget, creating an eerie tone that looms over William throughout the course of the book. However, this is pretty much as eerie as it gets. There are no big shocks, no horrific moments, even the mysterious Mr. Black isn’t that creepy. For something labelled as a ghost story, it sure doesn’t feel like one.

I wasn’t very satisfied by the ending. I was expecting some sort of big surprise or revelation, some explanation for the previous events: but nothing. However, despite the slow pace of the book, and not much happening, it is when Bellman finally opens his ‘mourning emporium’ that things get much more interesting. I loved the description of the building and all the items within – who knew there could be so many shades of black?!

I also spent the majority of the book working out where it was supposed to be set. It kept mentioning Stroud in the chapters about the wool mill, which is the town where I went to school and used to play a big part in the wool industry, so I assume it is based in Gloucestershire. It also mentions Bristol and Oxford, which widens the area but I’ve just come to the conclusion that it’s set in the south-west of England somewhere!

Overall, definitely an interesting story and concept, although with some rather dull moments – however these aren’t too common – though I would have liked more of a resolution.


11 thoughts on “Review: Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield”

  1. When done right those atmospheric stories can move at a snails pace and still hook me. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrill is the prime example, a thousand pages of nothing happening and I loved every second.

    This is positive review number two I have seen for this outing, and no negatives so far. Don’t do ghost stories much but if the trend continues….

    1. It certainly hooked me – I’ve actually seen several comparisons of this one to Jonathan Strange, so perhaps you will like this one too =)

      I think it’s not so much of a typical ghost story – or at least, it’s a rather unexpected one.

  2. Rinn! I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who developed a grotesque fascination for Bellman’s mourning emporium!!! That was honestly the most interesting part of the book for me. I liked all the details and the thought he put into the place. And I agree with you that this book is difficult to review… probably the reason why I haven’t done it yet >< I don't quite know how to explain this book, I guess?? In some ways it kinda reminded me of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, one of my absolute favorite books ever, but it lacked a certain magic that Jonathan Strange had.

    1. Yes, it really was! All the different items, and descriptions of different shades of black… I put off reviewing this one for ages, and I’m still not sure about my rating. My review doesn’t sound all that positive, it doesn’t sound like a 4 star book!

      I definitely need to read Jonathan Strange, we do have a copy somewhere in this house. It’s quite a brick though isn’t it? Not that I have a problem with big books, but I know this one is huuuuge and you have to be committed, haha!

  3. The pace was far too slow for me, especially compared to her previous book. I felt like this was a book that was meant to get me thinking, but I mainly became confused.

    1. I’ve not read The Thirteenth Tale, but I know we have it. I think you’re right about that – I’m not actually sure who Mr. Black was. Like I mentioned in my review, there was a lack of resolution which was a shame.

  4. Oooh … great review! I actually have this one as an ARC on my ereader, but have been seeing it over and over again at the grocery store, so I picked up a physical copy, too. I just loved The Thirteenth Tale, so I know this one has got to be good!

    1. Thanks =) I’ve not read The Thirteenth Tale, but I know we have a copy in the house somewhere. It was an interesting book – I’m not sure how it kept me so interested with so little happening!

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