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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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Book Details

ISBN: 9780099769712
ISBN-10: 0099769719
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 129mm x 17mm)
Pages: 272
Imprint: Vintage
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 5-Jan-1999
Country of Publication: United Kingdom


UK Kirkus Review » In the 'black velvet stars and the hexagons of printed calico' that make up the patchwork quilt that covers their bed, unmarried twins Lewis and Benjamin Jones can summon lost memories of the one woman they truly loved - their mother Mary. This novel too has a mesmerizing patchwork structure. Piecing together the thousand events that take place over 80 years in the farm known as 'The Vision', Chatwin arrives at something truly epic. In all his restless journeying, he never wrote a better nor more visionary novel than this one, located closest to home. Dirk Bogarde wrote of On the Black Hill: 'This book was my first meeting with Chatwin. A splendid way to start with this extraordinary writer due now, I would say, to be 'de-hyped' after some years of awe. Whatever is done to him by the intellectual literati lot his power will remain, and this wild, moving, wonderfully researched and, above all, understood, story of two brothers (and those around them) on the bleak, bold, glorious Black Hills of the Welsh borders will remain for all time. He writes so perfectly, so clearly, with such staggering economy, that one is constantly catching one's breath at the splendour that is evoked by perfectly simple, uncomplicated, words beautifully and skilfully set down before delighted eyes. His writing is like clear spring water rather than sugared synthetic liquid in cans.' (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » 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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Author Biography - Bruce Chatwin

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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