On the Black Hill
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On the Black Hill

By (author) Bruce Chatwin

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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 movingly on the larger questions of human experience.

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  • Paperback | 272 pages
  • 128 x 196 x 20mm | 200g
  • 19 Jan 1999
  • VINTAGE
  • London
  • English
  • 0099769719
  • 9780099769712
  • 69,349

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Author Information

Bruce Chatwin was born in Sheffield in 1940. After attending Marlborough School he began work as a porter at Sotheby's. Eight years later, having become one of Sotheby's youngest directors, he abandoned his job to pursue his passion for world travel. Between 1972 and 1975 he worked for the Sunday Times, before announcing his next departure in a telegram: 'Gone to Patagonia for six months.' This trip inspired the first of Chatwin's books, In Patagonia, which won the Hawthornden Prize and the E.M.Forster Award and launched his writing career. Two of his books have been made into feature films: The Viceroy of Ouidah (retitled Cobra Verde), directed by Werner Herzog, and Andrew Grieve's On the Black Hill. On publication The Songlines went straight to No.1 in the Sunday Times bestseller list and remained in the top ten for nine months. On the Black Hill won the Whitbread First Novel award while his novel Utz was nominated for the 1988 Booker prize. He died in January 1989, aged forty-eight.

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Review quote

"His deepest and best book" Independent "When I think of Bruce Chatwin now, I think of the ultimate storyteller. It's the resonance of the voice and the depth of his vision that makes him one of the truly great writers of our time" -- Werner Herzog, from 'Bruce Chatwin' by Nicholas Shakespeare "Nearly every writer of my generation in England has wanted, at some point, to be Bruce Chatwin; wanted, like him, to talk of Fez and Firdausi, Nigeria and Nuristan, with equal authority; wanted to be talked about, as he is, with raucous envy; wanted above all to have written his books...(he was) a writer no one who cares for literature can afford not to read." -- Andrew Harvey New York Times

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Review text

The long, narrow, eccentric 20th-century lives of twin-brother bachelor farmers on the Wales/England border - in a diverting but oddly unsatisfying short novel that tries to ride the fine lines between sharp satire, wry pathos, and grim psychopathology. Born at the century's turn, identical twins Lewis and Benjamin Jones grow up coddled by artistic mother Mary (a minister's daughter) and bullied by rough father Amos. (He kills their beloved pig Hoggage.) The household is further darkened by the Amos/ Mary conjugal storms, by Amos' feverish addiction to Non-Conformist religion, by the nasty elopement of the boys' sister Rachel (Amos' favorite), by Amos' success in keeping his lads out of the Great War. (They're branded as cowards in the village.) So it's not altogether surprising - though not altogether convincing either - that the twins (who share physical symptoms in the fabled twinship manner) are "crabby old bachelors" by age 22. Both are obsessively devoted to Mother. Lewis is tempted by women but resists (except for one fiasco with a visiting bohemian sort); he collects news stories of air crashes. Benjamin is jealously devoted to Lewis, with distinct homosexual overtones; he is religious, miserly, maternal, manipulative. And when Amos and Mary die, the twins will preserve the farmhouse intact for the next 50 years, living in fear of antique dealers, sleeping side by side in the parental bed. But, while sometimes presented as the stuff of clinical case-history, the twins are also seen as the quiet, sane center in a village-world of violence, small-mindedness, and misery: they befriend wome woebe-gone local outcasts', they are involved on the fringes of domestic murder. And the final view of old Lewis and Benjamin is predominately affectionate, even spiritual - as they develop charming platonic relationships with unusual women, as they're cruelly treated by their precious heir (great-nephew Kevin), as they edge into. a few small freedoms before the end (modern tractors are bought, Lewis actually flies a plane at last). Unfortunately, Chatwin, best known for the distinctive travel-writing of In Patagonia, never quite manages to blend all these strains in his detached, crystalline narration - and the faux-naif, fable-like tone (suggestive of a long short-story) doesn't fully hold up over the novel's length. Still, except for an occasional self-conscious lapse ("the gavel descended with an onanistic thud"), Chatwin's prose is an evocative, pared-down mixture of the gritty and the lyrical; the portrait of changing Wales village/farm life is bleakly authentic; and, despite all the inconsistencies and half-answered questions, the central twin-portrait does stay in the mind - a trifle muddled, perhaps, but nostalgic, comic, and faintly disturbing. (Kirkus Reviews)

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