by

Bellman and Black

Bellman and Black
Diane Setterfield

Setterfield’s first book, Thirteenth Tale, was a wonderful story that I love and recommend but find hard to explain. With Bellman and Black,  she’s done it again. The cover describes it as “a ghost story”, but I’d have a hard time explaining exactly who is haunting whom.

William Bellman is a young man when his uncle takes him under his wing and begins grooming him to take over the family cloth mill. Thanks to skill, a little luck, and incredibly hard work, Bellman expands and eventually inherits the business. His personal life is likewise sucessful, until one day tragedy strikes.
Mourning at the grave of his dearest loved one, Bellman meets a mysterious man named Black, who offers him an opportunity. Inspired, Bellman envisions a new business, which he names Bellman and Black. His business is successful beyond his wildest dreams- until one day, after years it suddenly isn’t. On the downward slope from a peak of success, Bellman begins to wonder who exactly his invisible business partner is, and what kind of deal he has made.

Rooks figure largely in this story (if there is any specific ghost, it is a rook.) Death is part of life in this story. Color and the many shades of black are also a focal point.

Summed up, it Bellman and Black doesn’t sound wildly compelling. Oh but it is! This is one of those books where the power of the story (and the beauty of the writing) is greater than the basic plot. Its true gothic Victorian-style horror- chilling exactly because so much is left implied.
The descriptions of color, cloth and materials are especially lush. I lost myself thoroughly in the pages of description for Bellman’s business.

If you want a story that is compelling, frightening, and gorgeous all at once, pick up Bellman and Black when it goes on sale this week. Maybe, in the end, its the story that haunts you….

image

You might like: Tiger’s Wife, Obrect. Bookman’s Tale, Lovett. Thirteenth Tale, Setterfield.

Advertisements
by

The Ghost Bride

The Ghost Bride
Yangsze Choo

Li Lan, a young Chinese woman in Malaysia, has few marriage prospects. Since her mother died, she has been raised by her amah (nanny) and her opium-addict father has been largely absent. There has been no one to arrange a marriage for Li Lan, although she has entertained dreams of a new, modern love match. Understandably, Li Lan is shocked when her father tells her the Lim family has approached him about making her a “ghost bride” to their dead son. She would be married to the dead son and then live her life in the Lim household as a widow, without ever getting to be a wife.
When, on a preliminary visit to the Lim house, Li Lan meets a handsome servant man, I thought, “I know where this is going.” Turns out I underestimated the author.
Yangsze Choo has written a novel that rises above the usual tales of unhappily arranged marriage and ill-fated love matches. Li Lan journeys to the spirit world, where she discovers that her marriage prospects are far more complicated than she ever imagined.
I have read more than a few novels set in Chinese culture, not only past and present but also largely fictional. This is one of the best. The writing reminded me of the late, great Pearl S. Buck. Was it the vivid descriptions of sights, smells and tastes in both this world and the next? Was it the carefully drawn unspooling of intrigue involving players living and dead alive? Was it the character of Li Lan herself on her inner journey from naivete to choosing love? Maybe it was all of that; regardless, I’m a fan.

image

You might like: Pearl of China, Anchee Min. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See. Saving Fish from Drowning, Amy Tan. Pavilion of Women, Pearl S. Buck