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On The Black Hill (Vintage Classics) [Paperback]

Bruce Chatwin
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
RRP: 8.99
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Book Description

3 Dec 1998 Vintage Classics
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 20th 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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On The Black Hill (Vintage Classics) + In Patagonia (Vintage Classics) + The Songlines (Vintage Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 262 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Classics; New Ed edition (3 Dec 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099769719
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099769712
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 24,647 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Bruce Chatwin's fascination with nomads and wanderlust represents itself in reverse in On the Black Hill, a tale of two brothers (identical twins) who never go anywhere. They stay in the farmhouse on the English-Welsh border where they were born, tilling the rough soil and sleeping in the same bed, touched only occasionally by the advance of the 20th century. Smacking of a Welsh Ethan Frome, Chatwin evokes the lonely tragedies of farm life, and above all the vibrant land of Wales.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beauty out of Banality 21 Nov 2008
This wonderful little book shows us what a great talent Bruce Chatwin was. The world of literature is so much the poorer for his tragic early death. His only other work I have read is "In Patagonia", an enthralling account of his travels in that area. "On the Black Hill" is a very different work showing his great versatility and his great knowledge of country lives.
The book covers the lives of two brothers who are identical twins. They are born on a farm where they continue to live out their hardworking lives. Their lives inextricably woven together. Chatwins skill lies in his ability to make this unpromising material so immensely readable. He is so believable. I have lived and worked among such people all my life. My own Grandfather whose trousers were held up by a binder twine belt would have recognised the twins. They are rural characters seen across the length and breadth of our Country and no doubt in other country's also. At last they have an author who has captured them. The minutiae and detritus of their lives encapsulated in this brief book. No words are wasted here. Many will say "but what about Hardy". My own experience is that he left me cold. Too morbid and too distant for my personal tastes. But the brothers I warmed to. They are truly painted and it is as honest a work as I have come across. It has been a revelation to me and a breath of fresh air. If I could write I would love to write like this. If you truly wish to know how many rural people lived in isolated farms across the Country in the last century, then reading this book will enlighten you. If I seem a little over the top in my adulation I make no apologies. This little book deserves all the plaudits and more. My efforts here will not have been wasted if I convince only one person to read it. That thought would make me extremely happy.
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An eloquent celebration of the quiet life. 14 Oct 2003
On the Black Hill is an elegantly written homage to the inelegant life of rural Wales, a life in which no one ever strays far from the farm--there are few opportunities and little motivation to do so. Spartan lives are enriched by stories and gossip, slights are never forgotten, feuds reach epic intensity, and bottled-up frustrations simmer till they explode. Through rich and vivid descriptions of the minutiae of daily existence, we come to know twin brothers Lewis and Ben Jones as they grow up and are shaped by their family and their small community. The townspeople become our own friends or enemies, depending on their behavior towards the twins, and we empathize with them as they use their limited resources to struggle with the big questions which concern us all--questions of love, spirituality, death, cruelty, justice, and ultimately, happiness. By paring life to the bone here, Chatwin gives us a classic example of the adage, "Less is more."
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On the Black Hill 13 Mar 2010
Bruce Chatwin, the writer of this novel, is mainly known for his travel books. Exotic places and reflections on travelling were his specialty. Yet "On the Black Hill" is possibly his best book, though set entirely in as unexotic a locale as possible, the borderlands between Wales and England. Chatwin's evocation of the peculiar atmosphere of a small, backwards farming community in Wales and the odd characters it produces is at once more lively and more tragic than any travel book could be.

The book revolves around a more or less chronological biography of twin brothers in a farmstead in Wales, written in sequential flashbacks. There is something of Xavier de Maistre in this: at the beginning of the novel, the twins are portrayed at the end of their life, living together in their isolated farm with a number of odd and antique items around them. These items then frame the telling of the tale of their life and of the people they encountered in it, so that in the telling each item becomes familiar and takes up its place in the sentimental narrative of the twins' experiences. In this manner, some of the attachment they have for their own place and their few possessions is projected onto the reader, which creates very skilfully a sense of identification with what are otherwise two very obviously highly weird people in a rather backwards and uninviting rural village.

Chatwin's book is remarkable because it is very compelling, a page-turner almost, while almost nothing of significance happens in it.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars how many copies must I buy 15 Jan 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I think this book is truly beautiful. Descriptive poetry of almost mindboggling quality.
I lend it with evangical zeal, and sometimes it is returned, when it isn't I can console myself with the thought that it will be treasured; it is always enjoyed.

I can almost understand why two "critics" found it depressing, because its tale of two "hen lanc", in Welsh literally "old youths" which usually means batchelors beyond marrying age, tells of frustrated love and worship of a long dead mother. But it is wrong to regard such lives as somehow failed, and the sureity with which one brother wealds the axe and the other keeps house is also a prayer in homage to the human spirit.

I do have one Welsh friend who could not read it, its depiction of two men so beautifully and accurately reminiscent of two long dead uncles it broke her heart. What should that mean in terms of star rating?

Bruce Chatwin was inspired by two brothers, not from Wales, but from the Welsh cultured area of Patagonia, written of in the poetic, if romanticised, travelogue "in Patagonia". Two men whose self reliance and stoicism, in their poor, tiny, Welsh dressered estancia, helped them lead a life of quiet, dignified displacement, speaking yr hen iath in a new world.

But the sheer beauty of the writing gives pleasure on every page and the final episode of the remaining brother, half of one, after the death of his twin, taking to the air as a birthday treat, though bathed in sadness, is truly, truly uplifting.

Beauty doesn't always mean happy, this book is beautiful, you may finish it with a tear of understanding but also a smile of enjoyment and appreciation, is that a definition of a true masterpiece?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful!
A really great book! Beautifully drawn characters, a real sense of time and place and full of carefully crafted sentences that make one want to go back and read them again & again!
Published 2 months ago by Inky
5.0 out of 5 stars An Unusual Story set in the Herefordshire/Welsh borders.rural
This book was chosen for our village book club read. The theme was rural and local to our area. The book was a delight to read, well written, wonderful descriptions of the... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Mary Weller
5.0 out of 5 stars On The Black HIll Bruce Chatwin
Evocative. descriptive writing which takes us on a journey through the lives of twins living on a remote hill farm on the border between Wales and England. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Pen Name
3.0 out of 5 stars Bookclub choice
My classics bookclub selected this book. I found it a chore to read and over rated. Short sentences. effort to read
Published 9 months ago by Eileen Ward
4.0 out of 5 stars Book
I read this excellent book years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. The opportunity to actually buy a copy was very welcome.
Published 18 months ago by Robert C Bovill
4.0 out of 5 stars Given as a gift
This was not for me but to be given as a gift. The book had been recommended by a friend.
Published 19 months ago by Andrea Reid
4.0 out of 5 stars Gentle rural famlly history/story
Enjoyed the style of Bruce Chatwin - my first discovery of his writing.
May try some of his other titles soon.
Published 19 months ago by Alison Austin
1.0 out of 5 stars Dog eared and not what was advertised
It was billed as being in good quality and nearly new/hardly read but it was dog-eared and not at all what was advertised
Published 19 months ago by matthew taylor
4.0 out of 5 stars this was a present
it was read an liked by my wife! I havn't read it ,I only purchased it as a present for her
Published 19 months ago by Michael Stephens
2.0 out of 5 stars Thomas Hardy on an off day meets the Archers
Sorry, can't hide my disappointment on this one. Liked a lot the Chatwin travel books I've read so was surprised to find, especially given the accolades for it, that On the Black... Read more
Published 23 months ago by Andrew D. Lewis
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