How goes it, Bookworms?
Remember our very first Fellowship of the Worms selection The Thirteenth Tale? Believe it or not, that was Diane Setterfield’s debut novel. When I saw that her long awaited followup was available on NetGalley, I could not help myself. I positively jumped at the chance to get my hands on Bellman & Black.
Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. You like honesty, right?
Bellman & Black begins with four ten-year-old boys frolicking in the woods. One of the boys in the group fashions a slingshot and uses it to knock a bird out of its tree. The rook is killed. Though Will Bellman is haunted by his act of childhood cruelty, he carries on with his life. Will proves a quick study at his uncle’s textile mill and is soon groomed to take over the operation. As he grows up and begins his adult life, he begins to lose family members and acquaintances. This isn’t much of a surprise, I mean, it’s the Victorian era, so medical care isn’t exactly stellar. A virulent strain of scarlet fever can (and does) wipe out a good chunk of a town. A mysterious cloaked figure keeps appearing at the funerals Bellman attends. One day, in the grips of extreme despair, Bellman imagines he has struck a deal with the cloaked man and embarks on a new venture.
His new venture? A funeral emporium. Now I GET that people who have suffered great losses often fall into depressive states or fixate on death… But starting a massive funeral emporium? It’s a little macabre. Of course, the Victorians were a little macabre… They did their grieving up in a big way- years of wearing black crepe, hired mourners, fancy pants coffins, all the dark and dreary trimmings. I found it to be a weird move, personally, but I am terrible at handling funerals. Seriously. I see one grieving family member and I’m a puddle of goo, even if it was someone I barely knew. I can’t imagine wanting to marinate in funeral-ness, but William was going through a lot. Plus, the world does need funeral supplies, so I’m willing to overlook the odd choice in industry.
What I can’t overlook is that this book was kind of… Boring. There was a lot of discussion of rooks and their influence on the human psyche
and mourning and grief… But you know what rooks are to me? The castle pieces in chess. That’s what we called them. Rooks. Apparently, they are ALSO big ugly black birds like ravens and crows. I’ve never been a big fan of birds that can actually fly. You can blame Hitchcock for that one. I think Setterfield was going for a Poe vibe, but it just fell completely flat for me. I’m really bummed about this. Setterfield’s debut, The Thirteenth Tale was SO incredible. Any offering she came out with was bound to suffer in comparison, I just never thought it would fail to hold my interest.
Of course, this is all a matter of opinion, and I am nothing if not aware of the fact that my taste in literature tends away from the poetic. I’m pretty literal when it comes to interpretations as well… I think for the right audience, this book might be wonderful. I’d recommend this to readers who enjoy novels with dark overtones and elements that are open to interpretation. Fans of ghost stories and gothic Victorian settings may just revel in the linguistically lovely descriptive passages. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t for me.
What about you, bookworms? Have you ever been disappointed in a favorite debut author’s sophomore work?