I’ve really agonised over this review, because I so wanted to love this book. The Thirteenth Tale is in my top ten favourite books of all time, and this second book has been so long coming – then it looked as if it was only going to be a novella, followed by the wonderful news that it was a full length novel.
There’s a lot about it that I really liked. I never expected or wanted it to be a ghost story – I would have been more disappointed if it had been. I liked the overall ambiguity – the brooding presence of the rooks, the mysterious Mr Black in the background, the resulting disintegration of William Bellman. I loved the narrative around the setting up of the death emporium, the detail around the difficulties of finding the perfect colour black – I did feel shades of Mr Selfridge, but decided that was down to me rather than the author . The early chapters engaged me too – the eager young man learning his trade, the background of the Industrial Revolution, the richness of detail around the manufacturing process and the retail trade. I even enjoyed the slow pace – it felt right, suitably Victorian, properly atmospheric, deliberate and considered. I’d even say I enjoyed it – Bellman was a suitably complex character, his disintegration fascinating to watch, his mysterious connection with Mr Black casting a long shadow that was undoubtedly going to be critical to the plot and the narrative.
And then, the book ended – just like that. I really wondered if I’d missed something important – I even re-read the last 50 pages. Others have said that the ending was “suitably ambiguous” – I thought it was a total let down, and it ruined the whole book for me. I just wondered why I’d bothered – the richness of detail, the inexorable progression towards a climax – and it just fizzled out. I was left with a feeling of wasted opportunity and, overall, real disappointment.
My thanks to netgalley and Atria Books for the advance reading e-copy – I’m sorry I couldn’t love it more. Kindle and hardback versions will be available on 10thOctober 2013, with the paperback to follow in September 2014. I’d still highly recommend Diane Setterfield’s first book, The Thirteenth Tale: I’m eagerly awaiting the television adaptation starring Olivia Colman and Vanessa Redgrave, due later this year.