Bellman & Black

Bellman & BlackI think I selected a good book for April 1st: it is a novel that definitely makes you feel fooled.  In fact, at times, I seriously did not know where this story was going.  I still don’t know what direction it intended on taking when I finished it.  I am a little bit frustrated.
On the outset, I had read the summary of the plot and thought it would really be something I would absolutely love.  At the conclusion, however, I felt confused and as if something were missing.  Besides the beautiful and whimsical cover, I thought there would be more to fawn over.  Maybe it was Setterfield’s purpose to get the reader thinking about certain things.
After reading the discussion questions, however, I decided that I may have interpreted stuff in the book differently.  I may actually have some admiration for her novel now.  I truly wish it could have been one of my Five Star Picks, but it won’t make the cut.  This is not to say that there were no interesting moments—-actually, there were more devastating instances than intriguing ones but I hoped that I wouldn’t be left in the dark, like I was, by the end.
My favorite parts are when, at the beginning, William Bellman works at his uncle’s mill (where we learn a bit about dyes and fabrics in the 1800’s) and when he opens up the business for funeral services and goods (hence, Bellman & Black).  It brings me back to a period that I have always been infatuated with.  It made me feel as though I were visiting Upper Canada Village, except this story is set in England.
The tone of the book is very dark and almost “Dickens” in style.  Everything seems to turn out bleak for Bellman just when he is supposed to be in the prime of his life (with a family and a successful business).  Misfortune upon misfortune plagues his days and all because of a rook that he had killed with his slingshot when he was ten years old.  Is the moral of the story to respect all living things, or karma will get you?  Or is it that one should never take for granted the loved ones that surround you?  Maybe it is to show people that not everything is always as it seems.  If anything, I certainly felt that perhaps it is a combination of all three!  There is also a major focus on memory and time.
In any case, there is plenty of food for fodder here, so it is a great book club selection.  If you read Setterfield’s first book (The Thirteenth Tale) and you read this one, did you like one more than the other?  Let me know what you thought.

If you are a member of the library, we have this title currently in Hard copy and in Large Type.  This may or may not change in the future.  Please check the catalogue frequently for an update of formats.

To read reviews on Bellman & Black, please click on the links below.
From The Washington Post.

From The Star.

For information on Diane Setterfield, click here.

Discussion Questions

Below are some questions to think about:

-Which parts of the novel did you like most? Which did you like least? Why?
-What did you make of the chapters about the rooks? What roll did they play in the novel?

Please click on the link below for the rest of the questions:

Interesting Tidbit
I never really thought about when funeral services and goods had actually become a business, until reading this book.  I was curious to know about the first funeral parlor and how it all started.  I think I will have to do more research on this.  There are plenty of books but nothing reliable out there on the good old web.  I did come across information about the history of funerals and practices of burial.  If you are interested, you can read the article from the British Archaeology magazine here.

This book reminded me of …
At least four titles came to my mind when reading Setterfield’s novel.  The first was The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  There is that same theme of time and how Bellman seems to be forced into some sort of pact with a mysterious man he hardly sees.  The next is David Liss’ The Twelfth Enchantment.  The main character seems to be surrounded by misery and curses, while facing the wrath of the middle classes when their jobs are in joepardy because of the industrial revolution.  In a similar way, Bellman sees his employees trying to achieve better wages from the competition and everyone he knows seems to be cursed or unlucky for an unknown reason.  The other story was The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.  Both books share that gothic feeling and horror as innocent people die with almost no explanation and, of course, there is that character in “black” who seems to have control over the people’s fate.  Finally, it strongly reminded me of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol because Bellman becomes so engrossed in his work that he doesn’t notice anything else around him.  He is set on making money and staying successful, while disregarding other aspects of his life—just like Scrooge.

Favorite quote from book:
“The rook is no theatrical conjuror with his top hat full of tricks, deluding your eye into perceiving what is not.  He is quite the opposite: a magician of the real.  Ask your eyes, What color is light?  They cannot tell you.  But a rook can.  He captures the light, splits it, absorbs some, and radiates the rest in a delightful demonstration of optics, showing you the truth about light that your own poor eyes cannot see.” (p. 9)

Most curious moment in the story:
Would you believe that I am stumped?  This novel is full of oddities.  There are too many moments where I thought something would be revealed or a scene which would grab me the most.  I cannot choose a point in the story that struck me, except maybe the part where Dora is drawing herself and illustrates her nose as if it were a beak (as if she were slowly turning into a rook).  It certainly is an interesting notion, especially since she is so very fond of the birds.  It is probably a symbolic message by the author.

Next month’s title:
A Well-Tempered Heart by Jan-Philipp Sendker

Take the poll!

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