Posts Tagged ‘diane setterfield’

Bellman & Black


After reading and raving about Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, I was excited to get a chance to read her latest novel, Bellman & Black.

In the English countryside during the reign of Queen Victoria, a ten year old boy, trying to impress his friends, kills a rook with a slingshot. Although William Bellman feels remorse, he soon forgets this incident. But rooks, apparently, never forget. As Bellman grows, his life seems charmed. He goes to work for his uncle, who owns a mill. William becomes the manager, and the mill grows more and more successful. He spends his evenings at the local pub, and is popular with all.

When William’s mother Dora dies, he notices a mysterious stranger at the funeral. Thereafter, he encounters this man at every funeral he attends. William marries and eventually has four children. When his uncle dies, William takes over the mill and the business grows and strengthens. When a devastating disease spreads through the town, Bellman’s wife and three youngest children (as well as many villagers) die. His eldest, Dora, is dying. At the churchyard, Bellman sees the mysterious stranger. Bellman comes to an agreement with him. Dora is spared, but not unscarred. Bellman goes on to open a successful London emporium, which he names Bellman & Black. This macabre store caters to all things funerary. Mourning clothes in shades of black; coffins; stationery.

Bellman sees “Mr. Black” the night before the store opening. Although he sets aside a generous portion of the profits from the store for him, Bellman does not see Mr. Black for many years.

This is quite a bizarre story. It is interspersed with facts and lore about rooks. William Bellman is as strange a character as the mysterious Mr. Black. He works relentlessly, rarely sparing time for his beloved family. In London, he owns several homes, but lives at the store. And for such an intelligent man, it just takes him too long to realize who Mr. Black actually is.

So-did I like this book? Yes, but I didn’t love it. The concept is bizarre, and the plot is nowhere near as interesting as The Thirteenth Tale. But I would definitely look forward to reading anything that Diane Setterfied writes, as her style is so elegant and precise.


Published in hardcover-Atria/Emily Bestler Books (Simon & Schuster)-2013
Softcover edition-to be published-Atria/Emily Bestler Books- September 2014

Bellman & Black: A Novel


The Thirteenth Tale

Author Diane Setterfield

Author Diane Setterfield

I can’t believe this book was published in 2006 and I just read it now! Where has it been? Where was I? Diane Setterfield’s debut novel grabbed me from the opening sentence, and never let go.

The Thirteenth Tale is a British mystery with so many interesting and fun elements I don’t know where to start. On the surface, it is the story of a young woman, Margaret Lea, who works in her father’s antiquarian bookshop. Margaret is well-read, intelligent, but socially awkward. While close with her father, Margaret has a strained relationship with her mother. Margaret amuses herself by writing short biographies of some of the lesser-knows authors whose works she has read.

One day, Margaret receives a long, hand-written letter from Vida Winter, a novelist. The reclusive and mysterious Winter is aging and very ill. In her 50+ years as a best-selling author, Winter has never told the truth about her background. She offers Margaret a large sum of money to write her story. Margaret must leave her comfortable home and travel to Winter’s isolated estate in Yorkshire. She will live with Winter while hearing her life story. There are, of course, conditions attached to the offer.

Margaret has never read any of Winter’s books, preferring 19th century novelists. Before accepting this commission, Margaret begins reading, and is immediately drawn in by Winter’s unique story-telling style. Most intriguing is Winter’s debut novel. Margaret reads a copy of this book,  titled Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, which she finds  in her father’s storeroom. Upon finishing the twelfth tale, the book ends. Margaret’s father explains that the book only contains twelve tales. They own the only known copy of the re-called first edition. All other published copies are simply called Tales of Change and Desperation.

This engaging story contains so many fascinating elements. It is a tale of a crazy family, twins, an addled housekeeper, a strange topiary garden, incest, and a fire. And more! It is a great mystery, with enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing until the very end.

Published in hardcover-Atria Books-2006
Softcover edition-WashingtonSquare Press-2007

The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel