Review – Bellman & Black

Bellman & Black by Diane SetterfieldAs a child, William Bellman once took aim with his slingshot, and on a lucky shot, took down a rook. While the moment was just a blink in time, faded by the years, the rooks never forgot, even after William did.

Working his way through life, successful in almost all his business endeavors, he begins to let himself think he’s a lucky man. But William’s not. A chance meeting with a stranger changes his life forever and he enters the business of death with an unseen partner.

I’ll say this, Bellman & Black is an interesting book. There are some strange twists and sad moments (it’s not a happy book by any means) and it is, overall, a dark novel. I read it on the train on a snowy evening and it was the perfect companion on that ride. It could have easily been the worst book choice ever if I’d been traveling on a warm, sunny day though. It all depends on your mood for this one. I know that’s true for almost all books and most people but I feel it’s particularly true in this case.

Setterfield is a great writer. A dark and dreary and somewhat strange writer but ultimately, a strong writer who can evoke that sense of time and place complete with subtle drama. She gives you just enough to imagine her world before she twists it ever so slightly. However, there are times in this book where it began to feel a bit repetitious. Something about Bellman repeating figures and tasks over and over began feeling, well, like he should be doing something else and she didn’t know what that was.

This is supposed to be a ghost story but in reality, it’s a story about a haunted man. Is the book as strong as her first book, The Thirteenth Tale? No, but I think it’s an introspective story on the things that haunt us.

Bellman & Black

By Diane Setterfield

Atria

ISBN: 9781476711959

 

Review – The Little Stranger

Ghost stories are wonderful things. I’ll clarify this — for the people that love them. I am one of those people. The tension, build up, agony of long held secrets finally revealed; I love it all. The promise of a ghost, or something akin to one, was the reason I read The Little Stranger. Unfortunately, for me, it was not to be a long lasting love.

Dr. Faraday once visited Hundreds Hall, a now crumbling mansion and estate, as a child. His mother, a former servant at the Hall, took him inside and he has always held on to this one shining memory. Now a country doctor, he passes by the Hall frequently on patient calls. One day he is called to the Hall to treat a sick maid and quickly becomes infatuated with the place and its owners, the Ayres. Roderick, wounded in the War, is struggling to keep Hundreds Hall afloat, his sister Caroline, a spinster proud of her current unmarried state, helps with the running of the estate but mostly entertains her mother, Mrs. Ayres. Faraday becomes obsessed not only with Hundreds Hall but with Caroline. When an incident occurs during a cocktail party and a young girl is injured, rumors about the old house and its owners start swirling. Faraday, deep in his obsession, is unable to walk away for the place or the people that inhabit it.

Creepy old house. Check. Eccentric people. Check. Unreliable narrator. Check again. All the elements were there. All the elements failed me. The malcontent that seeps from the pages was just that boring. When the events, creepy I suppose they were supposed to be, began, I didn’t look for other explanations. I sighed. It wasn’t there for me.

*Warning: this is spoilery.* I really want to talk about the narrator, Faraday. I said he was unreliable and I expect that in a ghost story. You want someone who is not quite sure what is going on. She/he doesn’t understand the history, the people, etc. That was true here too — while Faraday really wants to be one of the Ayres, he’s not — but he tries to sneak his way in. Usually I would be all right with this but he became the obsessed person content to diagnose everyone else as mentally unstable when I think he was the one to watch. Bait and switch is fine but I began to dislike Faraday intensely for what he was doing to this family. To me, he seemed to believe that his one trip there as a child qualified him to tell its owners and inhabitants what they should think and feel. One by one he sends them away. When his engagement to Caroline falls apart, he, who had been picturing himself as the new manager of Hundreds Hall, attempts to find a doctor and lawyer who will counteract him and say that Caroline is in fact not in her right mind. Really, he was just a bastard. By the end of the book I was disgusted for him and that he spent the rest of his sad days drowning in an alcohol induced sleep didn’t bother me one bit. This doesn’t happen by the way, I just wanted it to.

Now, I feel I’ve been harsh and I’m sure there are many of you out there that loved this book. Found it atmospheric. Found it a good read. I didn’t. Not that I need to state that now but my disappointment stems from the fact that I really wanted to enjoy this book and I didn’t. Unfortunately, I couldn’t accept it as anything other than a ghost story and I couldn’t appreciate the nuance.

As readers, we come across books that don’t stand up to our expectations. There was nothing wrong with this book other than my not enjoying it. It happens and it makes me wonder if I missed something in the reading but then I remind myself that I don’t need to, and will not, love every book I read. That was the case here.

Did you read it? What are your thoughts? I know there are many people out there that loved/enjoyed this book hence the adding it my list. I still plan to read Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith or maybe Affinity. I think she does decaying aristocracy well and I want to make sure I give a fair shot to her other works.

The Little Stranger

By Sarah Waters

Riverhead Books

ISBN: 9781594484469

2.75 stars

Books & Movies – The Woman in Black

I read Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black in 2011 and enjoyed it immensely. My review is here. Tension filled and creepy, it’s a great book for a dark winter night. When I heard they would be making a movie, I worried because as with all good books, it could be ruined. After a look at the trailer, I think they may have captured some of what made me love the book.

Oh, yes, and that’s Daniel Radcliffe. Harry Potter no more.

Short Story Review – The Abandoned

The Abandoned

By Amanda Stevens

Mira

EAN: 9781426888861

3.75 stars

Ree Hutchins is on-duty at the mental hospital when her favorite patient passes away.  Never a believer in the supernatural, and certainly not ghosts, Ree can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t quite right; especially after overhearing a conversation involving a doctor she admires greatly.  Ree spends her days trying to understand what she overhead at the hospital and hoping the creepy feeling she’s experiencing will fade.  Finding herself in a cemetery late one night with no recollection of how she got there, Hayden Priest, an amateur ghost hunter, comes to her rescue in more than one way.

This is a prequel to The Restorer which I really enjoyed.  (My review is here if you’re interested.)  It’s a short story but because I’d read The Restorer first, I had very high expectations.  I tamped the expectations down and enjoyed the story more at the end than at the beginning.  In ways, it felt as though I was waiting for more and that was because I knew the other later story that came from this one.  Stevens was definitely honing her story idea here.

As part of my 2011 reading, I’ve been trying to read more short stories, something I don’t often do because in certain ways I feel cheated.  I get attached to a story or a character and then it ends quickly.  I’m slowly learning to overcome this so even though my review seems only lukewarm, it’s not intended that way.  That has more to do with my non-ability to read a short story without being picky.  If you’re looking for a quick little ghost story, give this a try but do it before The Restorer if you have that on your list.  It’s an enjoyable story.

Teaser Tuesdays – The Restorer

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.  The idea is to give everyone a look inside the book you’re reading.

Play along: Grab your current read; Open to a random page; Share two teaser sentences from that page; Share the title and author so other participants know what you’re reading.

I started The Restorer by Amanda Stevens last night and thought I’d share a teaser this fine morning.

“It suggests the flight of the soul, although it’s a little more ambiguous than a dove or a winged effigy.”

He glanced up.  “What the devil is a winged effigy?” (page 66 on Nook)

Review – The Winter Ghosts

The Winter Ghosts

By Kate Mosse

Putnam

ISBN: 978-0-399-15715-8

4.25 stars

I’ve wanted to read a Kate Mosse novel for a while now.  Why I haven’t picked one up earlier is a mystery to me.  Fortunately, I had this book with me on a business trip and found myself so entangled with the story that my flight being delayed over and over again didn’t have the slightest impact.

Freddie Watson is a troubled person.  Still badly grieving the loss of his brother during WWII, he conjures up memories of his brother and talks to him for comfort when the pain gets too bad.  A stay in a mental institution hasn’t done much except to convince him he’s damaged.  In an attempt to find peace and quiet, and possibly a break from the ghosts that surround his life, Freddie takes a trip through the French Pyrenees and while driving through a blinding snow storm, he crashes his car.  Not badly hurt, he finds his way to a small mountain town where an inn keeper is willing to take him in.  She offers him a room, dry clothes, and the opportunity for a bit of socializing as the town will be hosting a celebration that night.  In an uncharacteristic attempt at fun, Freddie decides to go to the event but gets lost on the way.  He finally makes it and is seated next to a beautiful woman he falls instantly in love with.  After speaking to her all night and releasing a few of his tightly held stories about his brother and how he’s obsessed with his death, a fight takes place at the dinner and he runs away to the hills with her.  When Freddie is found the next morning, all he wants is to find the woman he met at the dinner but a fever soon makes his searching impossible and he’s forced back to the inn.  In a daze, he struggles to understand what happened to him and whether or not the woman he met was even real as no one seems to believe him.

There’s a strange coldness to this story and it’s not that it takes place during winter in the Pyrenees.  Freddie is hurting so much he turns himself off from life and when he finally finds something to make him happy, he finds out the woman he has fallen for is most likely a ghost or possibly even a figment of his imagination.  Is he slipping back into the depths of his mental problems or has he found something no one else knew existed?  I won’t say more because I don’t want to ruin it if you plan to read this one.  I will say I enjoyed it immensely and not just because my flight was delayed.  It was a thoroughly engrossing book.

Review – The Woman in Black

The Women in Black

By Susan Hill

Illustrations by John Lawrence

David R. Godine

ISBN: 0879235764

4.5 stars

Arthur Krupps is an ambitious, young lawyer looking forward to providing a secure future for his fiancé.  When his employer sends him to a small, isolated town in the north of England, he looks at it as an opportunity to make a name for himself in his firm.  On the long train ride north, he meets a man named Samuel Daily of the town of Crythin Gifford who becomes rather secretive when Arthur reveals the reason for his visit.  Arthur thinks nothing of Samuel’s odd behavior and, in fact, he finds the town a quiet, peaceful place and expects to enjoy his short stay.  He soon finds out that everyone in town is unwilling to talk about a woman named Alice Drablow, a recluse who lived at Eel Marsh House and the woman whose estate Arthur’s come to settle.  Arthur thinks it odd but brushes it off as nothing more than small town politics and just wants to get through the formalities of his work and return to London.  While attending the funeral of Mrs. Drablow, Arthur spots a woman in black but she disappears before he’s able to speak with her.  He spots her again while walking around Eel Marsh House later that afternoon but she’s much more intimidating on the marshes around the house than at the church.  Thoroughly spooked, he returns to town but is determined to return and finish his work.  When he does return, he finds a house full of sinister secrets and a ghost bent on revenge.

This story, while very short, is full of long, lush sentences that cast a creepy spell.  Arthur wants to believe what’s going on is in his mind but there are too many things happening that make him wonder, in some cases about his own sanity and well-being.  The town’s people won’t talk about the house on the marsh or what happened there and it adds a strange coldness to the story setting Arthur apart from everyone in town.  His search for answers only causes more distress and in the end, all he wants to do is run.  While Arthur’s story begins on a bright cheery note, you know his story won’t end happily.

It’s a good little Victorian story.  Angst, guilt, and anguish with a tad of soul searching thrown in make it a story you don’t want to put down.  If you like ghost stories this is it.  If you don’t, I think it will still hold some value as a story about a man coming to terms with a particular time in his life that he would prefer to forget.  If you don’t like ghost stories, consider it a story about a man and his past with a haunting element that adds atmosphere.

I came across this book while hunting for a dark ghost story.  Susan Hill has several other books, many of which seem to be well-known in England where she lives.  I plan to see what else my library has as she’s definitely a writer I want to read more of.  She has a wonderful style that is lulling but not in the way that puts you to sleep but in the way that pulls you into the story and traps you there until she’s ready to release you.