Top positive review
5.0 out of 5 starsListen to the rook
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on March 4, 2014
Diane Setterfield is a delight: a brilliant, astute author who is a gift to lovers of elegant fiction that teaches as well as entertains. I read through many of the reviews and I have a few comments of my own. I, like most readers here, read her first book and loved it. I awaited a second eagerly and when I found out it was ready, I was doubly delighted when I found the subject matter included rooks, or crows/ravens as most Americans know them. (Ravens are bigger). I feed four crows on a regular basis and have spent many happy moments watching their antics. I've named each of them according to their individual personalities. Those of us who love crows also know that they are the smartest birds......
Some have complained that B&B isn't as good as THE THIRTEENTH TALE, I think it's different, but equally as good. When a writer produces a best selling novel we often expect the second to be a slightly altered version of the first. This book has been compared to Dickens because of the character Scrooge, and while that may be true, the writing style is more spare, even though it's rich in detail, it doesn't have the lengthy descriptive passages Dickens is known for...I used to teach English, and each year I would ask my students if they preferred spare prose styles or those laden with description. ( Not surprisingly, the spare usually won out, the reason given being "it makes the book shorter." It saddened me that so many students hadn't yet discovered the joy of reading, and each year I made it my mission to develop students into voluntary readers.) One astute girl, who also read a lot, liked spare prose. She gave the reason as being, "It allows me to fill in the details with my imagination." One of the things I loved about B&B was the way Bellman's enterprise, the production of fabric, created a similar environment in my own imagination as I read it, the story structure forming a "loom" that allowed the story to weave back and forth in my mind, much the way a loom weaves cloth.
The novel doesn't lack description that is engaging, however, from the details of cloth making to the particulars of daily life, mores, and social structure of the time period.
There also seems to be confusion as to who Mr. Black really is. Suppositions ranging from death, the ghost of the crow killed by Will as a boy, guilt, greed, or the passage of time. I think it's all of them, represented by Mr. Black. The book is part allegory, part historical fiction, and part morality tale, with a light dose of fantasy. It's a veritable feast of topics and themes to talk about, perfect for contemplative hermits like myself or lively book clubs. Both Mr. Black's occasional appearances and the timely interjections of the "rook commentator" are opportunities for conjecture. As I see it, there are three very large themes, none new, but how in this day and age do you develop new themes, you can only find new ways to explore them. First, guilt, as an entity, is actually a healthy quality for humans to possess, if we felt no guilt, we'd all be amoral beings incapable of recognizing good versus bad, much less acting decently. We can surmise that Will's life was influenced by his early guilt over killing an innocent bird, the rook. The message here is to make the reader analyze how to deal with guilt, suppress it and ruin one's life from its subconscious influence, or lance it and clean up the mess, make atonement in whatever way suits the infraction, if possible.
Guilt segues into greed, driven by desperation, because Will put the acquisition of great wealth ahead of spending time with his family, even before tragedy struck. His daughter even went so far as to write, "Kiss Dora," in his diary, hoping he'd see it and spend more time with her. Eventually he believed that the acquisition of more wealth would ensure her survival, when all the while she hungered more for his presence. His daily endeavors became making more and more money, both to protect Dora and pay Mr. Black his share of the business....
Both of these themes feed into the major one, which I believe, is the recognition of time as being finite in all of our lives, some more so than others. This is perhaps one of the most dominant themes in the history of civilization. Some readers mention Scrooge, from "A Christmas Carol" by Dickens. I would also mention a stanza from "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam," an 11th century Persian poet, astronomer and mathematican: "The Moving Finger Writes; and, having writ, moves on. Nor all thy piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all thy tears wash out a word of it." It's as apt today as it was a thousand years ago.
Ms. Setterfield, writing as the rook, says it with graceful but forceful impact: "All stories must come to an end. This one. Everyone's. Yours."