“I have heard it said, by those that cannot possibly know, that in the final moments of a man’s existence he sees his whole life pass before his eyes. If that were so, a cynic might assume William Bellman’s last moments to have been spent contemplating anew the lengthy series of calculations, contracts, and business deals that made up his existence.”
From the beginning sentences to the last, BELLMAN & BLACK is an astonishing work of genius, with a staggering number of layers. This is one you might want to read again and again to see what new discoveries you can find.
We first meet William Bellman in a field near London, when he is 10 years and four days old. Surrounded by his peers, he boasts that he can do the impossible: hit that rook sitting in a tree well beyond the range of his catapult shot. Even he knows it can’t be done. But, unfortunately, he makes good on his word and the bird falls to the ground, dead. It may have seemed like an inconsequential act, but rooks have long memories. Still a mere child, William had sealed his fate before he even hit puberty.
"Beautifully written, Diane Setterfield’s book takes morality and puts it under the microscope, showing its readers the fine line between good and evil, and the consequences of our every action. From start to finish, it simply dazzles."
Skipping ahead several years, we find William starting a job at his uncle’s mill. He had a head for business and soon impressed his uncle with his brilliant ideas. Even the employees, skeptical about a member of the owner’s family interjecting himself into their world, had to admit that William put his back into his work and made the mill flourish and grow.
But William didn’t stop there. He went on to ever more profitable enterprises, heaping success upon success, ending with his masterpiece, Bellman & Black. Built around the one inevitable part of life --- death --- B&B handled every aspect of mourning, grief and whatever families needed to cope with loss. Thus far, William had led a charmed life. From the time he took his first job, he showed the signs of a budding businessman with an uncanny knack for knowing just what to do and when to do it. In his personal life, he was a family man with a wife he dearly loved and children he absolutely adored. It seemed that everything favored him. That is until, finally, it didn’t. There came a time when he had to pay for that long-ago indiscretion. And the rooks decided when that time was.
Somewhere along the line, at a funeral, a mysterious figure lurked on the fringes, a man who William thereafter always called Black, although he couldn’t recall the man giving a name. He did vaguely remember, though, that Black had given him the idea for Bellman & Black. He just can’t pinpoint the exact details. Did they have a partnership? What promises were exchanged? Why couldn’t he lay his hands on a contract? All William could recall was that he had a strange feeling after meeting Black, one that was both eerily calming and highly disquieting.
Absolutely gripping, BELLMAN & BLACK is the epic story of an ordinary human being and how the tiniest transgression reshaped his future. William may have thought he could forget the killing of a small bird, but he couldn’t. Even if he could, many others couldn’t. Beautifully written, Diane Setterfield’s book takes morality and puts it under the microscope, showing its readers the fine line between good and evil, and the consequences of our every action. From start to finish, it simply dazzles. And the final page will leave you inspired, jubilant and just the tiniest bit heartbroken.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on November 8, 2013