Bellman and Black is a quietly reflective novel which explores the Victorian’s morbid fascination for death, and in doing so, uncovers an unusual story about the pain of bereavement.
William Bellman is brought up by his widowed mother. He is an average sort of child, not given to flights of fancy, and yet as a small boy he commits a despicably cruel act, which will have far reaching consequences. As he grows to adulthood, William is offered the chance to better himself by working at his uncle’s mill, where he soon proves to be a valuable asset. Blessed with a charmed life, William Bellman is the epitome of Victorian prosperity, until misfortune introduces him to a mysterious man in black whose macabre hold over William’s life forms the basis for this interesting and compelling story of Gothic obsession.
When I first started Bellman and Black, I thought that it was a rather unassuming book as nothing much seems to happen for a good third of the novel. However, there is a stealthy quietness to the story which sneaks up on you, and as the morbid fascination for the ritual of death starts to evolve, the sparseness of the narrative becomes more absorbing and offers a disturbing insight into the Victorian fascination for death and dying.
With great precision, the author has captured the very essence of Victorian funereal etiquette, from the intense and varied quality of the black bombazine used for mourning clothes, to the voyeuristic observation of unseemly grief. There is an almost hypnotic quality to the story and a distinct creepiness which seeps into your mind. Reading the story late at night you sense a chill in the air, and almost without realising it, you start to observe rooks in a whole new light.
Diane Setterfield’s first book The Thirteenth Tale was a distinct success; however, my feeling is that this one will be a bit of a slow burner, not because the book lacks appeal, but because the brooding nature of the narrative may not be to everyone’s taste.
I have a huge fascination for dark Victorian Gothic literature - so I'm firmly ensconced in the loved it camp.
My thanks to Lovereading.co.uk for the opportunity to read this book in advance of its
Bellman and Black is to be published by Orion on the 10 October 2013
available at Lovereading or will be waiting on a shelf at a bookstore near you.