Read On The Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin Online


On the Black Hill is an elegantly written tale of identical twin brothers who grow up on a farm in rural Wales and never leave home. They till the rough soil and sleep in the same bed, touched only occasionally by the advances of the twentieth century.In depicting the lives of Benjamin and Lewis and their interactions with their small local community Chatwin comments movinOn the Black Hill is an elegantly written tale of identical twin brothers who grow up on a farm in rural Wales and never leave home. They till the rough soil and sleep in the same bed, touched only occasionally by the advances of the twentieth century.In depicting the lives of Benjamin and Lewis and their interactions with their small local community Chatwin comments movingly on the larger questions of human experience....

Title : On The Black Hill
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780099769712
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 262 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

On The Black Hill Reviews

  • Cheri
    2019-05-21 09:54

    NOW AVAILABLE - This will be the first time Bruce Chatwin’s first novel has been published in e-format, making it available for e-tablet readers. This edition also contains an “illustrated biography of Bruce Chatwin, including rare images and never-before-seen documents from the author’s estate.” “He never thought of abroad. He wanted to live with Lewis for ever and ever; to eat the same food; wear the same clothes; share a bed; and swing an axe in the same trajectory. There were four gates leading into The Vision; and, for him, they were the Four Gates of Paradise.”Identical twins Lewis and Benjamin Jones have shared most of their days of their lives together since they were born. They live in a house together, sleep in their parent’s old bed together, work the farm together. Their lives are more interdependent than most married couples, each one completely dependent upon the other. The trials they’ve endured in their lives have changed each of them in different ways, they are no longer the mirror images of the other, inside and out. “Because they knew each other’s thoughts, they even quarreled without speaking.”Benjamin is the softer, gentler one, he cooks, and he loves delivering the baby lambs. Lewis is physically stronger, but a dreamer of other lands. Their mother factors heavily in their memories as they go through their days, through their lives. Their father factors in, not as heavily in their hearts, perhaps, but in the storytelling. Beginning with their father’s youth through their entire lives, this little book covers a rather extensive period of history. Set in rural Wales, in a tiny little spot on the map, Chatwin is at his best when describing the landscapes and other cultures. The twins rarely leave their farm, and the town is much like you’d expect from any small town where the people rarely change, living is routine and never easy. These residents not only can’t imagine living anywhere else, they are comfortable in their routines. Knowing the quirks and annoying behaviors of each resident they feel protected by that knowledge.“Most Radnorshire farmers knew chapter and verse of the Bible, preferring the Old Testament to the New, because in the Old Testament there were many more stories about sheep-farming.”While reading this, I sometimes felt torn between the occasionally lovely prose, the quirky charm of the characters, and the overall bleakness of the setting as it often crossed that line into bleak and depressing. I recommend this book with that caution.Pub Date: 18 Oct 2016Many thanks to Open Road Integrated Media, and to NetGalley for providing me with an advanced copy for reading and review.

  • Doug H
    2019-06-06 04:56

    This one blew me away. So simple; so complex. So small; so big. I finished it a week ago, but I've been holding off on reviewing it until I could find the right words. I still haven't. Until I do, I'll just leave these stars here and tell you: this is one is pure gold.

  • Agnieszka
    2019-05-29 07:59

    I've never read Chatwin before but his name immediately brings to my mind voyages and creates beguiling images of distant lands. Meanwhile inOn the Black Hillwe receive ordinary though unusual in its simplicity story, set on the farm called "The Vision " on the english-wales border. Chatwin effortlessly and with great charm and discreet humor painted hymn to the unchanging rhythm of life, hard work and carefully cultivated Welsh separateness. With keen eye described the small, closed community, unwilling to changes taking place in the world. The protagonists are twin brothers Lewis and Benjamin Jones. When we meet them they are in their eighties and spent together practically almost whole life. We get to know theirs father, simply, sometimes violent peasant and his wife Mary, educated and fragile pastor's daughter. We're witnesses nearly the whole century on the Black Hill. We see, unusual even for twins, intimacy. Violent quarrels with neighbours, love for the farming, beauty of the countryside, two world wars, economic progress, tractors, planes. All this runs through the book. And on the Black Hill two old childless men are to make over their farm to his sister's grandson.Masterpiece.

  • Michael
    2019-06-11 09:45

    A warm-hearted and somewhat bleak tale of identical twin brothers, Benjamin and Lewis, living out their lives together on a rural farm on the border of Wales and England. The initial scenes of their comfortable routines in their 80’s are followed by a step back to the origin of their lives soon after the marriage of their parents at the end of the 19th century. They settle into the life of tenant sheep farmers, fixing up an old farmhouse they call “The Vision” close by the beautiful “Black Hill”.We get a vision of an idyllic life for the twins growing up on this farm, which they would almost never leave. Lewis is more physical and likes girls; Benjamin was more sensitive and spiritual, loves to tend to the lambs and wants only to be with Lewis forever. The light would literally go out of his eyes when separated from Lewis. They are almost separated when Lewis falls for a local girl and when Benjamin gets drafted for the Great War, but fate seems to intercede. Their father, before he dies, works out a way to purchase the farm. With Lewis’ brawn and Benjamin’s talent for business, they make a go of keeping their little paradise going despite any upheavals in the distant world. After their mother dies, they keep everything in the house the same. Their main concession to changing times is to adopt a tractor for plowing. Thus the tale is a bit of a fairy tale of resilience to change and keeping family bonds alive and the life of a place called home forever. I was moved by the little dramas in their life and that of villagers in their community. I mentally place this book among other admired stories that I consider “biography of place”. I loved Chatwin’s effortless capturing of the rhythms of nature at the farm, as here reflected in the senses of the twins’ mother Mary:The winter was hard. From January to April the snow never melted off the hill and the frozen leaves of foxgloves drooped like dead donkeys’ ears. Every morning she peered from the bedroom window to see if the larches were black or crisped with rime. The animals were silent in the deep cold, and the chatter of the sewing machine could be heard as far as the lambing paddock.I loved the subtle humor bordering on satire about class relations. For example, Mrs. Bickerton was a frail fair-skinned woman in her later thirties. As a girl, she had devoted herself to painting, and had lived in Florence. Then, when her talent seemed to desert her, she married a handsome but brainless cavalry officer, possibly for his collection of Old Masters, possibly to annoy her artist friends.‘I like the Welsh,’ Mrs, Bickerton went on. ‘But they do seem to get so angry, later. It must be to do with the climate.’The twin’s father Amos does harbor a temper bottled up inside his inarticulate self. At first, he kept in check, along with his tender feelings:He treated her as a fragile object that had come by chance into his possession and might easily break in his hands. He was terrified of hurting her, or letting his hot blood carry him away. The sight of her whalebone corset was enough to unman him completely.But Mary’s attempts at creativity and cooking based on her readings did not fare well. For his constipation, she began to plan for some healthy vegetables in the garden:But when she suggested planting an asparagus bed, he flew into a towering rage. Who did she think she was? Did she think she’d married into the gentry?The crisis came when she experimented with a mild Indian curry. He took one mouthful and spat it out. ‘I want none of your filthy Indian food,’ he snarled, and smashed the serving dish on the floor.Almost all my friends on Goodreads rate this book higher. But my “B” rating is relative to the wonderful books on rural life and coming of age that I have sought out, driven in part by my origins from a place in Oklahoma where our nearest neighbor was a mile away. Among these other reads I am most attracted to ones that capture the necessary personal transformations or the surpassing of hardships that make one capable of dealing with the larger adult world. Just as with a rare book on utopia, a tale devoted to preservation of the good life hooks me less than ones where the character must deal with a dystopian society or a dysfunctional family through a pathway of tough moral choices. An example of such a book for me is McMurtry’s “The Last Picture Show”. The nostalgia aspects of this book are close to that of “My Antonia” and “Jayber Crow”, but the former excels for me by incorporating more personal change and the latter by capturing the vitality of a community. The closest in plot is Haruf’s “Plainsong”, which also features a pair of bachelor farmer brothers, but their taking in a pregnant teenager opens the door to substantial change in their lives.This book was provided by the publisher as an e-book through the Netgalley program.

  • Rebecca Foster
    2019-06-10 10:37

    I mostly read this during our trip to Hay-on-Wye earlier in the month, and feel it is worthy of being called a modern classic. It has echoes of D.H. Lawrence and especially Thomas Hardy, and it’s a pleasantly offbeat look at the developments of the twentieth century as seen through the lives of Welsh identical twins Benjamin and Lewis Jones. Opening in the 1980s, when the brothers are eccentric old gents sleeping side by side in their late parents’ bed, the book then retreats to the beginning: at the turn of the last century ornery Amos Jones fell for an educated rector’s daughter and their volatile relationship played out at The Vision farm. One son was caught up in the First World War, one had love affairs; neither “ever strayed further than Hereford.” Through sickness, community scandal, and the rise and fall of fortunes, they remain wedded to Welsh village life.I especially loved Chatwin’s descriptions of the natural world (he’d visited Radnorshire as a boy and considered it a kind of spiritual home), and the glimpses he gives into the twins’ preternatural closeness:Lewis and Benjamin gambolled ahead, put up grouse, played finger-football with rabbit-droppings, peered over the precipice onto the backs of kestrels and ravens and, every now and then, crept off into the bracken, and hid. They liked to pretend they were lost in a forest, like the Twins in Grimms’ fairy-tale, and that each stalk of bracken was the trunk of a forest tree. … They lay on their backs and gazed on the clouds that crossed the fretted patches of sky … they would press their foreheads together, each twin losing himself in the other’s grey eye.(Clearance book from Blackwell’s in Oxford.)Originally published with images on my blog, Bookish Beck.

  • Connie
    2019-05-25 03:34

    Twin boys, Lewis and Benjamin Jones, were born in 1900 on a farm on the border of Radnorshire, Wales and Herefordshire, England. The identical Welsh twins spent more than eighty years together with the stronger Lewis doing the heavier work on the farm, while Benjamin handled the finances and birthing the lambs. Their one push into the modern world was buying a tractor. They had a telepathic relationship, knowing the other's thoughts and feeling the other's pain.The book is composed of experiences of the twins, their parents, and their neighbors in a small village. It does not have much of a plot, but has a marvelous sense of place, occasional humor, and lovely writing. It immerses the reader in the rural life of a Welsh village where the residents live close to the land in what is often a bleak existence. Lewis died first, but Benjamin cannot be separated from his twin. He spends time every day sitting on the tomb, "a block of shiny black granite one half with an inscription, the other left blank."

  • Jeanette
    2019-05-31 02:39

    This is a nice, quiet little novel to pick up when you don't want anything upsetting or scary or suspenseful to read. It's very much place-driven and character-driven rather than dependent on an exciting plot. Chatwin covered 80 years in 250 pages, so there's no excess prose or boring passages. The beauty of the book is the way the author carries you away to a sheltered little farming community on the border of Wales and England. With very few words he richly creates all the small-town provincial characters you'd expect for that time and place. There's the gossip, the crazy person, the greedy one, the pious one---and then all the interlopers "from off" that the locals don't trust because they're new. The landscape and seasons and lifestyle are also vividly created with few words. The story follows the lives of Benjamin and Lewis Jones. They are identical twins who are so attached to each other that they're more like one person than two. Born in 1900, they spend their entire lives on their farm, with only one holiday away at the age of ten. Sounds boring, but the book has its own special charm.

  • Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
    2019-06-01 03:48

    Take Haruki Murakami's novel, Kafka on the Shore. A delight to its juvenile readers, and why wouldn't it? Lots of props here: cats talking to humans, frogs falling like rain from the sky, a son having sex with his mother, a brother-and-sister love scene, killings, ghosts. Even the title hints of fantasy. After reading it, however, you feel empty. Like you've spent new year's eve all alone, you've watched the fireworks in the sky consume themselves, then you sleep with no remembrance of any joy.Now look at this. Not a single one of such props whatsoever. Bruce Chatwin even chose the most boring place, the most ordinary characters, the simplest plot, and an unpretentious title. Near the end of the 19th century the story starts, a farm on the English-Welsh border called "The Vision", near a place called the Black Hill. There's the father Amos and his wife Mary. Their first born were twins, Lewis and Benjamin. They have a younger daughter who later ran away with a man and never came back. Amos tended their farm, the twins grew up to be farmers too. They never married or had children. Lewis lost his virginity to a girl when he was already past the age of 30, Benjamin appears to have never had sex with anyone although it was hinted that he may have been sexually abused by men during his stint as a drafted soldier during the first world war where he refused to fight and was dishonorably discharged. After their parents died, and their sister had ran away, the twins continued tending to their farm, acquiring additional land every now and then. They slept side by side in their parents' bed for 42 years, never changing anything inside their house. They grew old, past the age of eighty. Just that. No trips to purgatory, no battles fought, no enigmas, strange coincidences or troubling dreams.Boring, boring, boring you might say. But you know what? Unlike Kafka on the Shore which fell flat despite all it pyrotechnics, this novel FLEW. And at that point where it takes you to flight, you'd feel like crying.Another discovery from the 1001 list. Bruce Chatwin..."died outside Nice, France, on January 17, 1989" the book's blurb says. Never heard of you before, Mr. Chatwin. But now I see you!

  • John
    2019-06-16 08:50

    The story of a Welsh farming family focusing especially on twin brothers, Lewis and Benjamin. Having recently read a biography of Chatwin by N Shakespeare, I had already encountered several of the “characters” here. L&B are based upon two farming brothers introduced to Chatwin by his friend, Penelope Betjeman. Similarly, some of the other characters evolved in this way. It was therefore difficult for me to see this always as a work of fiction.Beautifully written in spare clear prose it is entirely absorbing and the characters are well drawn. I now want to find the DVD of the film based on the book and see how they compare. Recommend.

  • Teresa Proença
    2019-06-02 02:55

    Se este romance tivesse menos oitenta personagens, talvez o relato dos oitenta anos de vida dos gémeos Jones fosse muito mais interessante.

  • Bettie☯
    2019-05-20 08:45

    (view spoiler)[Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)]

  • Inderjit Sanghera
    2019-05-21 06:39

    Nabokov once states that all great stories are fairy tales in the sense that each work of fiction was a magical creation of a new world, 'On The Black Hill' is broadly speaking a "realistic" work of fiction but Chatwin is able to imbue it (especially the depiction of the Jones brothers childhood) with a magic, not with the magic of fiction but the magic of life. 'On The Black Hill' is the story of the lives of two twins in rural Wales. Nothing much happens in their lives, neither travel further than 100 miles from their village, although their lives are cushioned between two world wards and a world undergoing rapid industrialisation neither of these events have a huge impact on the characters lives as they live on the periphery of the industrialised world. None of the characters are particularly intelligent, kind or brilliant, instead the novel chronicles some dozen or so "normal" people, normal people with their kindness, quirks, insecurities and cruelties. The novel is imbued with seemingly mundane details of life in rural Wales, yet it is this detailed description that gives the novel its magic, its fairy tale element comes from its very ordinariness, as we come to learn about and care for the Jones twins and the other characters who live on the periphery of their lives, it celebrates instead the miracle of every human life no matter how superficially mundane it may seem.

  • Laura
    2019-05-29 07:29

    From BBC Radio 4 - Book at Bedtime:Iestyn Jones reads from Bruce Chatwin's novel about the lives of identical twin brothers Lewis and Benjamin Jones, on their farm in the Welsh Marches.1/5. The courtship and marriage of the brothers' parents: Mary, their literate and well-travelled mother, and their ill-tempered, inarticulate father Amos.2/5: From earliest childhood, the twins seem to feel each other's happiness and pain, and often speak in a private language. By adolescence, differences begin to emerge but the brothers' bond is stronger than ever.3/5: Benjamin is called up to fight in WWI and Lewis is drawn to young Rosie Fifield, but neither love nor war can separate the boys for long.4/5: After the war the twins turn their attention even more towards each other and their home. But tension erupts when Lewis has an encounter with Joy Lambert, the wife of a local artist.5/5: The twins continue to enjoy farm life, shunning modernity and sharing their parents' bed. Then Mrs Redpath arrives with news that will change everything.

  • Wendy Chard
    2019-06-14 10:47

    This was a novel of almost unutterable beauty. Chatwin's writing is beyond lyrical and has a real rooting in time and place. Oh, to be in Wales at the turn of the last century! I can just imagine how bleak the winters were, and how spectacular the summers. It was poignant to view the passing of time and the changes it wrought. This story felt different because of the time span covered. I've read plenty of novels set in the rural 1900s, but have not yet seen one modernise this world as Chatwin did, ending his novel in the 1980s. To me it was really interesting to watch the world become familiar (and to watch it become foreign to the novel's inhabitants). I felt sad that the times were changing, but amazed, at the same time, and connected again with the old world as a result. It was very beautiful.The characters were all brilliantly realised and gave great spirit to the countryside. I loved Meg the Rock and Theo the Tent. I especially loved the twins, Lewis and Benjamin, and I think they were brilliantly crafted by Chatwin. I'd love to read this novel again, perhaps in twenty years or so. It was marvellous.

  • Michael Boxall
    2019-05-29 10:29

    Chatwin had a beautiful way of writing, usually described as spare. I collect sentences that please my ear and write them out by hand in a hard-backed notebook. I read On the Black Hill in 1982, when it was published, and among the half-dozen or so sentences I copied were the following:"Crossing the pasture one evening, he watched the swallows glinting low over the dandelion clocks, and the sheep standing out against the sunset, each one ringed with an aureole of gold--and understood why the Lamb of God should have a halo.""Perched on the tractor mudguard, he would watch the plough-share bite into the stubble, and the herring-gulls shrieking and swooping over the freshly-turned furrow.""He came to a stream in a copse of hazels, where the water combed over a rock, and there were piles of bleached bones brought down by the winter flood."In novels like The Marquis of Ouidah, which is about the West African slave trade, Chatwin captures the exotic. In Under the Black Hill he captures the everyday lives of Welsh hill farmers, and makes them equally extraordinary. As was his own talent.

  • Jim
    2019-06-17 10:42

    Always I have associated Bruce Chatwin's work with travel to far-off places. This time, with On the Black Hill, he threw me for a loop. We the a whole lifetime lived in one place, on the border between Radnor (in Wales) and Hereford (in England). The lifetime is of a pair of twins named Lewis and Benjamin Jones, two bachelors who slept with each other in their mother's bed on the old farm called The Vision. Because I had a suspicion of what the book was about, I did not expect to like it. Not only did I wind up liking it, but I thought it was by far the best of Chatwin's three novels, despite being so un-Chatwinlike in its subject. The only character I thought reminded me of Chatwin was a nomad from South Africa called Theo the Tent, because he live in a yurt:And he had come to believe that all men were meant to be wanderers, like them, like St Francis, and by joining the Way of the Universe, you could find the Great Spirit everywhere -- in the smell of bracken after rain, the buzz of a bee in the ear of a foxglove, or in the eyes of a mule, looking with love on the blundering movements of his master.One must remember that Chatwin's first book was to have been called The Nomadic Imperative, of how men were meant to be nomads. He had run into so much criticism when he circulated his drafts that he in the end dropped the project altogether. Except, he tried to live the life of a nomad.I have always loved Chatwin's work. Now I have read everything except his letters and those scattered essays not reprinted in books. I still think he was one of the lights of the late 20th Century. It was a pity he died so young.

  • Sylvester
    2019-06-04 07:50

    (To be clear - I listened to the abridged reading on BBC radio, not the book itself. )Difficult to describe this! About closeness and loneliness all at the same time - can that be? It felt as if something sad was always imminent, a suspended state of unease- the brothers were real enough to me that I worried about them! Don't think I can write a proper review without having read the full book, though.

  • Metaphorosis
    2019-05-25 04:53

    2.5 stars - Metaphorosis ReviewsBrothers, twins in body and spirit, spend much of their lives together on a farm at the Welsh-English border.I've not read Bruce Chatwin before, but have heard of him mainly as a travel writer. Certainly, in On the Black Hill, his prose is simple and unembroidered. However, he demonstrates that it is also possible to be too plain. The events of the book, tangled and of great potential interest, pass by like notes in an almanac. On this day, this happened; on the next, that happened. While the book follows the lives of the two brothers in great detail, it never roused my interest in either of them. While a few other colorful characters come in and out, others are summarily dealt with in a few paragraphs.The novel has a fairly clumsy start - after a chapter on the twins late life, the book suddenly and without warning drops back to a time before their birth, to give the history of the farm itself. In fact, while seeming to be about the men, the book could just as easily be seen as about the farmhouse itself - a view probably better fitting its cool, dry voice.If the book engendered any real feeling in me, it was one of frustration - the twins are curiously passionless, despite a family and neighbours steeped in passion. They drift, and seldom do much. In part, Chatwin's intent is to explain just that, but the story comes across less as a novel than as an almost clinical look at what one might take for a true story. Chatwin is known as a travel writer, and perhaps that was his true calling. The descriptions in the book are colorful and interesting. I wish the characters had been as well.

  • Trisha
    2019-05-28 09:48

    A beautifully written, rather brooding story that's set in the wild but beautiful Welsh countryside and follows the lives of two twin brothers who were born at the very beginning of the 20th century. From the start they were inseparable and so closely bonded that they seemed to have been able to sense when one or the other was in danger or pain. They remained bachelors all their lives, sharing everything as they continued to live on the farm that their father had bought years ago. The book's characters are vividly portrayed and so is the the way Chatwin describes the landscape and the people who are such an important part of it -- farmers, tradesmen (including a coffin maker)clergy, gentry as well as a number of others who were notable because of their eccentricities. The book was an evocative look at a way of life that simply doesn't exist any more and it reminded me very much of the novels of Thomas Hardy, George Eliot and Mary Webb.

  • Claire Fuller
    2019-05-29 09:43

    This took a while to grow on me. I expected to be about two twin men aged 80, but actually it's about from before they were born up until they're 80, and the farming community they live in, and so has to move very speedily through the years without much pause to look around and reflect. And that's what I found difficult; it was only by the time the book finished that I got used to this speed. It's full of odd characters which I loved, the kind of people I remember from my rural childhood, tramps and loners, eccentrics and naturalists.

  • Elisabeth
    2019-06-12 10:41

    ein sehr wunderbares und anrührendes Buch.

  • Douglas Dalrymple
    2019-05-19 05:37

    This was a fine novel and I enjoyed it but it was radically unlike anything else I’ve read from Mr. Chatwin. More measured, less eccentric, but a very warm and mildly humorous and satisfying read. It reminded me somehow of G.B. Edwards’ The Book of Ebenezer LePage. Chatwin was a famous traveler, but On the Black Hill is a story about staying put. His two main characters, Benjamin and Lewis Jones, spend their whole lives on or near the family farm in the Welsh borders. The story spans a period from roughly the 1890s to the early 1980s. You might say it’s the world around the twins that does the moving here; it’s the world, in a way, that comes to them.Chatwin gets extra points for knowing how to end his story properly.

  • Sally
    2019-06-03 08:33

    'For forty two years, Lewis and Benjamin Jones slept side-by-side in their parents' bed at their farm ...', 20 Dec 2014Set on the Welsh/English border, this is the story of elderly twins in a remote rural community, opening in the late 19th century, with their parents' courtship, and concluding in the 70s, with the twins in old age.As other reviewers have observed, nothing massive happens; there is interaction with the local aristocrats, the Bickertons; with various neighbours, notably the unfortunate Watkins family - daughter Meg puts one much in mind of a Mary Webb character.World events seem relatively far away, although the First World War leaves its traces on one of the twins. They remain - largely - uniquely close to one another. Thus during a separation:(Benjamin) 'hated Lewis for leaving and suspected him of stealing his soul. One day, staring into the shaving mirror, he watched his face grow fainter and fainter, as if the glass were eating his reflection until he vanished altogether in a crystalline mist.'And as time moves on, there are new faces and long-lost relatives...This life of ordinary people is perhaps summed up in a Harvest Festival sermon at their chapel: 'Our life is a bubble. We are born. We float upwards. We are carried hither and thither by the breezes. We glitter in the sunshine. Then, all of a sudden, the bubble bursts and we fall to the earth as specks of moisture. We are as these dahlias, cut down by the first frosts of autumn.'A really enjoyable read.

  • Eadie
    2019-06-17 07:37

    Reading this book is like taking a trip to a farm on the English-Welsh border. There isn't much happening and the everyday things that are normal happenings to us are a big deal at The Vision Farm. Chatwin's writing is very gentle and gives us a feeling of adoration for the two brothers that have such devotion to each other. Without much of a plot, the book is place driven and character driven. I would recommend it to anyone who loves to read about rural nature.

  • Kelly
    2019-06-09 04:59

    Brilliant book! A gentle, meandering story about the lives of twin brothers who live out their years in a rural farm on the Welsh border. It's one of those quiet books where not much actually happens, there's no big story arc as such. A story that is very much rooted in the beautiful minutiae of everyday life.

  • William1
    2019-05-31 07:43

    This was dazzling. I need to reread it soon.

  • Meredith
    2019-06-14 02:48

    Super. I am sure I'll read this again someday. Nuff said.

  • J.C.
    2019-06-10 02:32

    I read "In Patagonia" years ago, but, other than that, I do not know Bruce Chatwin’s books. “On the Black Hill” seems to me like a Hardy novel without the coincidences. This is not me being clever (or trying to be!). This is an image called into being by Chatwin himself, where his female protagonist, Mary, sits reading:“She was reading ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’. She liked it less than “The Woodlanders’, which she had read the week before, and Hardy’s ‘coincidences’ had begun to grate on her nerves.”So Chatwin avoids relying on coincidence to carry his plot along, which possibly accounts for the lack of any contrived drama in the novel and for what reads as a staunch adherence to reality in the characters’ lives, in fairly brutal descriptions. It’s a powerful book, like “The Woodlanders”, in that its impact lies in its atmosphere and evocation of a disappearing era. I found it compelling, and fortunately had the time, between Christmas and New Year, to read it compulsively.I find myself still thinking about the portrayal of the characters, who are either Welsh farming people or English gentry and professional/merchant class. The narrative runs through the course of the long lives of the twin brothers, reclusive hill farmers who resist the advance of modernity in the twentieth century, and counter in their own way the intrusion of two world wars. I was somehow less interested in the twins than in the multiplicity of colourful characters that surround them, who are almost Dickensian in their eccentricities, as they loom into view from filthy hovels, dingy solicitors’ offices, or crumbling mansions. Gossip is vicious and untrue; material gain drives their actions; but food and help are offered to the sick, and ministers of religion plough through the community like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner. I was born, and spent my childhood in, South Wales, though not in a farming community, and the Welsh characters ring true, with all their warts, gossip, and duplicity. In terms of the narrative there is a warning in what Mrs Bickerton remarks:“I like the Welsh . . . but they do seem to get so angry, later. It must be to do with the climate." The only thing that jarred for me at times was their dialect. The things the characters say are vivid and often entertaining; but the way the dialogue was written often seemed more English than Welsh (the tale is set on the border) and I couldn’t always ‘hear’ it in my head. Again, it reminded me of Hardy.Probably the most important reason for reading this book is for the effect of change in this traditional community. Many a contrast is drawn; a Jewish refugee (who plays a vital role in the intrusion of modernity) “lost herself along leafy lanes unchanged since the time of Queen Elizabeth”. An excellent section was where the farm is offered at auction – a brilliant social, political and psychological depiction. Without spoiling the end of the book, I’d like just to observe that it is the twins’ partial acceptance of twentieth century modernisation that plays a final, ironic role.If for no other reason, read the book for the brief and wondrous glimpse of Theodoor and Meg the Rock - one of my favourite sections was where a young boy first catches sight of Meg. I can’t quote it because the description relies on earlier acclimatisation. How about this quotation instead? It demonstrates the irony inherent in the style and throughout the narrative.“Then, one lovely spring morning, the war came to an end with a bold headline inthe “Radnorshire Gazette”: 51 ½ lb SALMON ‘GRASSED’ AT COLEMAN’S POOL Brigadier tells of 3-hour struggle with titanic fish For readers who wished to keep abreast of international events, there was a shorter columnon the far side of the page: ‘Allies enter Berlin – Hitler dead in Bunker – Mussolini killed by Partisans.’"There’s no hammering of the point. Chatwin then gets straight to the effect of this upon the one and only German we meet – a character I took to. It’s interesting how the ‘small’ characters shape this book, for me, more so than the twins, who can seem largely passive, or entirely wrapped up in each other. I suppose that does enhance the oppressive atmosphere and entrapment of the characters’ lives – again something Dickensian. I keep harping on about Hardy and Dickens because I feel that Chatwin in this book is an inheritor, but in no way an imitator. The book is masterly, and I became immersed in it in much the same way as, after years, I still feel the relentless drip of rain in the trees in “The Woodlanders”. I expect in years to come I will still remember from “On the Black Hill” the full horror of the local party to celebrate the ending of World War 1.At the same time both an atmospheric and a realistic novel – not an easy achievement!

  • Nancy
    2019-05-18 10:51

    "--they would stand over her patchwork quilt and peer at the black velvet stars and the hexagons of printed calico that had once been her dresses."Identical twin brothers Lewis and Benjamin sleep in their parent's 1899 oak four-poster bed, hung with the cretonne hangings of larkspur and roses their mother made as a newlywed, with linen sheets worn to holes, the mattresses sunk into two troughs. On the bed was the patchwork quilt their mother had made, "to remember me by," cut from the calico dresses of her youth in India and her best black funeral skirt. From their bedroom window they could see the Black Hill. The house remained unchanged for the twins were unwilling to dismantle the memories of their mother embedded in the wallpaper, the Georgian pianoforte, the Coronation and Jubilee mugs. Hereford had been their home; though Lewis loved maps and far off places, he never left. Benjamin's love for his twin was like a binding vine holding Lewis back from pursuing a greater life. People come into their world bringing love and tradegy, hope and disappointment, and a few answered prayers.On The Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin is a quiet story spanning the 20th c, full of eccentric and memorable Welsh villagers whose lives remain rooted in a past rapidly crumbling around them. A world outsiders consider quaint, antediluvian, or collectible, or a haven from the modern world. I love this kind of novel that elicits a nostalgia for a world I have never known, bringing forward the forgotten people whose lives merit our compassion and admiration. Toward the end of the novel a 1960s drop-out comes to Black Hill and becomes friends with the brothers. Theo invites the twins to his yurt, and taking a lotus position recits poetry, sharing his favorite poem by Li Po:What is the use of talking, and there is no end of talking,There is no end of things in the heart.I call in the boy,Have him sit on his knees here,To seal this,And send it a thousand miles, thinking. The poem, Exile's Letter, translated by Ezra Pound is one of my favorites as well, the story of parted friends and the nostalgia and longing for their shared days together. On the Black Hill is lyrical nostalgia, though few of us would be willing to return to the rugged and harsh rural life depicted, we envy the characters' connection to the past, their community, and rootedness to the earth.This new ebook version of On the Black Hill includes an illustrated biography of Bruce Chatwin.Bruce Chatwin is the author of In Patagonia and The Songlines (also available from Open Road Media), books I enjoyed reading when they were first published in the 1970s. On the Black Hill won the Whitbread Literary Award for First Novel. I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

  • Andrew
    2019-06-17 03:38

    This is the story of identical twins Lewis and Benjamin and their curious life on an isolated farm in the shadow of The Black Hills on the border between England and Wales. It opens in 1979 as they live their isolated life in the farmhouse they have lived in since their birth at the turn of the 20th century. The book then details their life through the century and the events and people that shape their story. This includes the strange romance of their parents and the life of a mother who despite intelligence and prospects marries beneath her the husband who becomes increasingly frustrated by his life and takes it out on his wife. As children the twins are inseparable but their characters emerge and perhaps the interesting part of the story is how one twin Benjamin frustrates his brothers opportunities for an independent life particularly as they become aware of girls. Their part in world war one is sad as the choice Benjamin makes after forced conscription has greater impact on their isolation. As theygrow older a nephew emerges and both old and new characters develop and the stories intertwine with poignancy and comedy . Overall it is a very readable book which I rattled through and there were scenes and characters that stood out. The writer created a vivid sense of place and it was definitely a book that I enjoyed. Perhaps at times however I felt a little distant from the story and the tale lacked an emotional attachment which meant at the conclusion I had enjoyed the read but didn't feel lost without the characters when I put the book down. It did however make me want to explore more by Chatwin a travel writer who I read in the 1980's 'How did I get here' and whose life sory would make interesting reading.