Geese come in a gaggle. A saccharine murder of crows. Ants are a colony, probably because they build small sand meadows inside Egyptian monuments. A clutter of cats. A raft of ducks, herd of elephants, trunk heavy with lisps. A green camouflage army of frogs burping on the pad. Owls in the rows of their parliament shaking their head at those that see them in the light. Tigers: a fanciful, an ambush, a streak, a broadway musical of tigers, a striped sweater of tigers, paint on tall grass. A cohort of zebra, making jokes about your bad fashion sense. A chorus of rooks, a cloister, a congregation, the mob, the pitchforks, the silent purple haze of rooks gathered in the trees. Rook is the pinch just inside the hook of the whirl of your ear. A complicated tunnel of grooves and open space. A rook is also a bird, brilliantly colored under its wings, meeting in the sweep of shadows formed by trees. They’re the storytellers of Diane Setterfield’s newest novel, Bellman and Black.
Not dignified enough to be a main character, but certainly well enough to confuse the reader at what the point of the story is, only to find out that the point was exactly what you thought from the very beginning. And here I thought Setterfield could create two surprises in a lifetime. Some authors are just one trick ponies. As the time grows from my reading this book, I get more and more disappointed at the purpose of this story. If you wanted to tell me that birds, rooks more likely, know the history of the universe because it started with rooks named thought and memory, then tell me that, but tell it slant and tell it beautifully. Dickinson bribed you with her grown man, death, but you didn’t listen.
This book was a bleak pint of what The Thirteenth Tale was. How dare people call this a ghost story. This was not a ghost story, this was a story of revenge on a man who should be pitied. Poor Bellman, who had it all, and lost it to a catapult. This story could have made more impact as a nursery rhyme. Let’s try it, shall we?
Poor little Bellman
Can’t find his family or his home
Lives in the upstairs of his shop
doesn’t know the secret of who’s on top
shot a rook down to its death on the ground
now his daughter’s head; uncrowned
till you know the end of this song
to the rooks lips, you belong.
I’m pretty sure I just summed up this entire story for you in nine lines. It’s a number of lines so small that I had to spell out the number because it was under ten. You think I’m joking, but I’m beyond serious. It started out like a fairytale. You had my good girl intentions all riled up when you brought the rooks into it with their cape of magic hidden under their spread wings. A Mardi Gras of color on the backside of their feathers. And yet, birds couldn’t even convince me that this book was worth the ten days I spent slugging through it.
I was beyond excited for her second book which I’ve been waiting for for years. When I’m in the bookstores, I check her name first to make sure that I didn’t miss anything. I knew early that they sold it in Canada first before breaking open the US market. I’m fan enough to have actually requested this book before its US debut and be turned down and then request it again when it is official with the US cover and all. I tried, tried again for Setterfield because The Thirteenth Tale was a beautiful anti-fairytale.
And she gave me this smidgen, this half pint, this “you’re killin’ me, Smalls.”
I don’t care how much tension can fill a page, how many pages of mystery can envelop the reader, how secretive the appearance of Black became, this book trudged through the snow and came back half dead, frost-bitten and hunched. Whoever on Goodreads claimed that this one was filled with mysterious overtones is dead wrong. You know the answer to this mystery the second Black steps through the graveyard mist into the eye of Bellman. You know the illness will fever the children, you know the wife is too sweet to live long. It’s like a bad horror movie, the same types always die first. Have I said how disappointed I was yet, or did you miss that part.
This was no story. This was a journey from point A, what the reader learns, to point B, what the reader already knew happened anyway. Like there was some big reveal at the end, hmph. You’re half-asleep at the sunrise if you didn’t see that ending coming from a train speck away. A boy makes a bad decision watching a small pebble make an arc into the tree line and he pays for it for the rest of his life. He pays in every single way, and eventually red-rimmed and hackney, closes both black eyes to the mare and lets it drop. There’s not much more to tell. Once you read the first 100 pages, you’ve read the book, give up from there.
A rook in its hidden glory deserved better than this. Give the cloister its hymnal and let it lie with.