Published by Orion on 2013-10-10
Genres: Fiction, Magical Realism
Source: Audiobook obtained through Audiobook Jukebox
Bellman & Black is a heart-thumpingly perfect ghost story, beautifully and irresistibly written, its ratcheting tension exquisitely calibrated line by line. Its hero is William Bellman, who, as a boy of 11, killed a shiny black rook with a catapult, and who grew up to be someone, his neighbours think, who "could go to the good or the bad." And indeed, although William Bellman's life at first seems blessed—he has a happy marriage to a beautiful woman, becomes father to a brood of bright, strong children, and thrives in business—one by one, people around him die. And at each funeral, he is startled to see a strange man in black, smiling at him. At first, the dead are distant relatives, but eventually his own children die, and then his wife, leaving behind only one child, his favourite, Dora. Unhinged by grief, William gets drunk and stumbles to his wife's fresh grave—and who should be there waiting, but the smiling stranger in black. The stranger has a proposition for William—a mysterious business called "Bellman & Black" . . .
I love audio books. In the author’s notes on the audio version of Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, he talks about how the first stories we learn are read to us. I listen to audio books when I’m in the car, shopping, and playing Candy Crush.
In typical book blogger fashion, I already have a tbr shelf just for audio books. Reviewing them is a bit more difficult, because I don’t take notes and I don’t always know how to spell the characters names. So these reviews will be a little different from my book reviews.
I have some mixed feelings about this book. I’m not sure if I’d been reading it in physical form if I would have been as compelled to finish it as I was the audio. There were parts of the story that I quite liked, and I really enjoyed the charmed life that William Bellman lives despite the death all around him. Part One proved more interesting than I would have imagined since it dealt with Will’s rise in the mill, but I really enjoyed learning about his family business. Will has a sharp, inquisitive mind and he definitely won me over quite quickly (which should have been harder since in the opening he kills a bird).
My main problem with the book is that it never really lives up to the promise of a ghost story. Just when I thought the story was going to take off, instead it did a u-turn. This time, instead of watching Will build a mill empire, we see him build a funeral goods Walmart-like empire. Which the nerd in me still enjoyed, but I kept waiting for the payoff, for the moment Black would reveal what he truly wanted from Bellman… and instead it felt like my bright red balloon slowly deflated and faded into a dull pink. If you’re going to be all mysterious, there comes a moment when you’re supposed to part the curtains and say Ta-da! Instead, the curtains kind of billow here and there and nothing is completely revealed.
Actor Jack Davenport narrates and he made this story mostly magical for me. His voice was just perfect for this novel and he kept me listening when I probably would have shut the book and left it discarded somewhere in the house. The story moves slowly, but Davenport’s rich voice, I was content to meander with him through the tale. He has a voice for fairy tales. I could honestly listen to Davenport read just about anything. Sigh. Guess I have a new voice crush.
Okay, this is the rating for the audio version, so please understand that I’m taking into consideration of the awesomeness of Jack Davenport’s voice. Even though the ending was a dud, I did like 80% of this book.