She needn’t have worried.
That isn’t to say that I think “Bellman & Black” is on par with “The Thirteenth Tale”; on some ways, it is not. But on others, it more than reaches the mark.
Let’s go ahead and get the comparison out of the way. “The Thirteenth Tale” is probably one of my very favorite books; the ending was a little weaker than I would have liked, but otherwise, it was near perfect, imho. It is a great story, an intriguing story, a life story that draws you in and never lets you go. Read it, if you haven’t.
“Bellman & Black” isn’t quite as good of a story as “The Thirteenth Tale.” It’s a little more ambiguous, a little more layered and philosophical. There is something that “Bellman & Black” does better than “The Thirteenth Tale,” and that is deliver beautiful writing
The ridiculous gorgosity of Setterfield’s words had me clutching my chest at points. To say that this is some of the most utterly gorgeous writing I’ve experienced would not be hyperbole. It is the kind of stuff writers dream of writing, and that readers get misty over. I wanted to eat entire passages, let the words roll around on my palate so I could savor each and every one.
As to the story. In today’s pace-crazed literary world, I would bet money that there are going to be cries of, “It’s too slow! She needed an editor!” But I, as usual, don’t agree. “Bellman & Black” follows the story of William Bellman, an affable man who leads an unusually charmed life. Until it becomes an unusually cursed one. But who curses Bellman?
The story is being touted as the story of a man punished for a boyhood act of cruelty, but I think the book is about life, death, and how we handle fear. Thrice in the novel, Bellman is faced with situations that tear him apart emotionally. Though he appears to recover each time, I would argue that he does not. He simply finds more and more effective ways to not feel. To me, this book read as sort of a fable about modern life, and how we as a world have turned our back on the things that make life worth living, things like love, family, connection, art, and beauty. All of these things are dangerous: love dies; family, too; art and beauty are fleeting. Rather than risk being made uncomfortable, being made to hurt, we’ve submerged ourselves in work, building for the sake of building, and the accumulation of money. But is that life? When our life flashes before our eyes in that final moment, will we be happy with what we see?
“Bellman & Black” is much deeper, I think, than it appears at the surface. It is rife with symbols and archetypes, and days after finishing it, I’m still turning things over in my head. However, if that’s not your thing, read it anyway – for the words. The glorious, glorious words. Setterfield is a wordsmith, an artisan of letters. Don’t miss out.
Oh, and, be nice to black birds, just in case. (It’ll make sense once you read it.)