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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Bellman and Black: The Advantages of the Janus Perspective

Janus was an ancient Roman deity of doorways with two faces.  One looked forward and the other looked backward.  This could be interpreted as a god who sees both the past and the future.  I have always felt that both perspectives are valuable.  If I were an ancient Roman consulting an oracle, I'd want a Janus faced one who could see both the history that brought about my current situation, and how my actions in the present would impact my future.

 Bellman and Black is about a man who never looked back.  He was always looking forward.  The story deals with the consequences of  dismissing the past as irrelevant.  Many readers might agree that there is no reason to concern ourselves with past events.  Saying that something is "history" means that it's over and done with.  It no longer has any significance.  "It's so yesterday."  Diane Setterfield's  latest book speaks to them.  She has written a cautionary tale.

 I received this book from the publisher through Net Galley and this is my belated review.  I can only plead the challenges of library school as an extenuating circumstance.

Protagonist William Bellman was a pillar of the  19th century English industrial revolution.  He was always more than one step ahead of everyone else.  He was remarkable at predicting future trends.  He put all his energy into his work and was committed to being better than his competitors.  Unlike some current corporations, he was decent and considerate toward his employees.  It was more important to make sure that his workers were happy than to make additional profit at their expense. He was certain that happy employees would be dedicated ones who would be loyal to the firm.  Surely William Bellman was a man who would have been widely admired and respected.  Yet he had a secret that he'd buried in the past.  He wasn't in the least bit haunted by his memories.  The past simply didn't exist for him.

I appreciated the fact that the fantasy aspect of this novel is drawn from Norse mythology rather than the more overused forms of mythology like Celtic Faerie or Native American shamanism.  I also appreciated the way the characters who were artists were portrayed.   I thought that Dora, Bellman's artist daughter, was the most sympathetic character in Bellman and Black.  I only wish that I could have seen more of her.

As for Black, he was an ongoing mystery for William Bellman.   I will leave readers with the opportunity to discover Black, and the mystery at the heart of this novel for themselves.

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