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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Powerful and Absorbing Story
Susan Hill sets the stage for her latest story very effectively when she opens with: "On Mondays, the village, which was called Mount Zeal, smelled of washing as well as of coal dust." Her latest novel tells the story of the Howker family who live in Mount Zeal village, which is built into the hill in a bowl. At the base of the bowl lies the pit, where all the male...
Published 19 months ago by Susie B

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Black Sheep susan Hill
its okay, but rather depressing At *84 I prefer a more informative happy ending. However the skilled writing was appreciated and made the reading easy. I came from a mining community in N.E. So appreciated that to escape to a life in farming was preferable to going down the pit. i had'nt read any of the susan Hill other books But will do from now on. Think I first saw...
Published 18 months ago by Joyce I Parker


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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Powerful and Absorbing Story, 24 Oct. 2013
By 
Susie B - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Black Sheep (Hardcover)
Susan Hill sets the stage for her latest story very effectively when she opens with: "On Mondays, the village, which was called Mount Zeal, smelled of washing as well as of coal dust." Her latest novel tells the story of the Howker family who live in Mount Zeal village, which is built into the hill in a bowl. At the base of the bowl lies the pit, where all the male members of the Howker family work in the mine; further up we find Lower Terrace, where many of the miners' families, including the Howkers, live; then there is the Middle Terrace and further up is the Upper Terrace, known as Paradise. When four-year-old Ted Howker asks his mother why, if the Upper Terrace is called Paradise, the pit is not called Hell, she boxes his ears and threatens to wash his mouth out with soap. But young Ted's words are somewhat prophetic, for as he grows up, he decides he cannot face the hell of the pit and makes the decision not to go down into the mines as the rest of his family has done before him. This decision shocks, confuses and alienates his family and causes repercussions for Ted that he could never have envisaged.

'Black Sheep' is the affecting and absorbing story of a family living a harsh and very real life; this is not a cosy, heart-warming tale of working-class people all living hugger-mugger together, but a raw and bleak portrait of life in a mining community, of the sheer back-breaking toil, of the lack of money and lack of clean air, of illness, of infirmity, of heartbreak and death. However, raw and bleak as this story may be, it is masterfully told, where not a word is wasted, and where the author has the ability to conjure up her characters and their situations in just a few sentences, bringing them vividly to life. A powerful, moving and haunting story where you become pulled into the lives of the Howkers immediately you begin reading; it's also a story which, although brief in length, may well leave you thinking about it for some time afterwards.

4 Stars.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Strong and Pertinent Story, 15 Nov. 2013
By 
ACB(swansea) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Black Sheep (Hardcover)
This story hits hard from the beginning. How does it feel to be trapped in a small mining community with no escape from the realism of a stark future in the pits of hell? Susan Hill describes the confinement of the village in the fictional Mount Zeal where the biblical connotations of paradise lie in the lowest of the three streets and the hell is the miner's shift from the home in the highest street, to the neighbourhood and to the pit itself. Susan Hill focuses on the Howker family. Many generations have followed the ancestral footpath into the confinement of the black hole with it's misery, monotony and malcontent but few have challenged the inevitable pathway to the pit shaft. John and Evie Howker have five children. Some follow the solemn track to the coal, some have ambition to achieve a different life. Youngest son, Ted is the black sheep of the title, who declares his hand to his father, as does older sister Rose. Their ideals of escapism are received with incredibility.

What follows is the awareness that 'reality was overpowering'. Susan Hill writes with this power and conviction. These communities have existed. The time is immaterial. The pits may be allegorical of life. The economy of words do not diminish character development nor the capture of the frustration. The ending is nebulous in the hope of provoking thought. Bleak it may be but potent it certainly is. Gripping.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So powerful., 13 Jan. 2014
By 
Lola (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Black Sheep (Kindle Edition)
I have a love-hate relationship with Susan Hill, some things she writes I admire, while the others are read and forgotten. "The Black Sheep" literally blew my mind, today, on the tube, where I finished it. I literally was shaking and had to compose myself.

The power of Susan Hill's writing is brilliant. It's such a short novella, and, in the beginning I was thinking how Susan Hill's publishers should really wait for a few of those to be finished and then put in a book of short stories. Yet, when I was reaching the end, I realised how stand-alone brilliant the book was, it certainly deserved its own cover.

I am not going to summarise the plot, the book is quite short and in the prose is succinct and crisp. I loved the grim play with names - Paradise street and the burning fire of the Hell (the pit at the bottom of the Paradise). I loved the stories of lives of half a dozen of people, so brisk yet so deep and forever intervened with one another. The suffocating life of a tight knit community, the fresh air at the top of the hill, the son who escaped, and the other son, who also escaped, albeit with the blow to his head.

Be warned: the book is quite depressing. Yet quite powerful. The prose is absorbing and beautiful. "Black Sheep" is a perfectly formed novella which might leave you shocked and shaken, like it did with me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sad yet Superb., 2 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Black Sheep (Paperback)
Black Sheep is set in Mount of Zeal, a coal-mining village which is divided into Lower, Middle and Upper Terrace (known locally as Paradise). Susan Hill always writes beautifully and creates tension superbly and subtly. The sense of impoverishment is all-pervading and Hill sets the tone in her opening sentence "Mount of Zeal smelled of washing as well as coal dust." and the daily grind that constitutes the villagers' lives is clearly conveyed with the men going down the pit to end up with damaged and blackened lungs while the wives wait at home seeing to the never-ending round of cooking, washing and cleaning in addition to raising often large families.

The novella centres around the Howker family and in particular, brother and sister Ted and Rose both of whom hope to forge lives away from the shadow of the pit. Hills' books tend to be more than tinged with sadness and the Howker family seems to suffer more than their share of tragedy which makes for harrowing reading at times. The story moves along at a very brisk pace and in a mere 135 pages Hill covers two decades during which Ted moves from boyhood to adulthood and Rose's life changes dramatically. I will not go into the various tragic events that befall the unfortunate Howkers in case I might inadvertently include spoilers but this is not a tale for anyone looking for a light hearted read.

There is no denying that Black Sheep is a relentlessly bleak tale but it is nevertheless worth reading as it is very well written in a deceptively simple style.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Black Sheep susan Hill, 13 Nov. 2013
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This review is from: Black Sheep (Kindle Edition)
its okay, but rather depressing At *84 I prefer a more informative happy ending. However the skilled writing was appreciated and made the reading easy. I came from a mining community in N.E. So appreciated that to escape to a life in farming was preferable to going down the pit. i had'nt read any of the susan Hill other books But will do from now on. Think I first saw the title in the Guardian Review,
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5.0 out of 5 stars Of darkness and light, 7 May 2015
This review is from: Black Sheep (Paperback)
Of darkness and light

“Black Sheep” is about honour and disgrace in a small, isolated pre-WW II British coal-mining community. Its overcrowded terraces house miners on changing shifts and their hard-working wives, facing many tasks. No work alternatives for school leavers (14+), early marriage for girls. The novella’s focus is the Howker family of three miners, daughter Rose and kid brother Ted. Home worked like a machine when Ted was small.
But at 14, Ted decides not to go down into the pit of darkness with his classmates. Instead, he chooses for an outdoor life of light and open skies with a view on the world below, looking after hundreds of sheep. He was not the first to break with tradition: his silent, oldest brother Arthur gave up mining after an injury and one day disappeared forever…
Have read, enjoyed and reviewed five Susan Hill novellas and always felt her work had been rushed into print. But “Black Sheep” is a perfectly paced and a truly searing family drama. It contains notable characters such as work-shy, God-fearing grandpa Reuben, struggling mother Evie, nasty son-in-law Charlie, and of course, lovely Rose and Ted himself. Sad story, sad ending. Well written.
Perfect for reading clubs to discuss e.g. miners and their culture, then and now, or past and present relevance of capital punishment.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful novel spoilt by its ending, 24 Mar. 2015
By 
Frances Stott (Devizes, Wiltshire) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Black Sheep (Paperback)
For most of this novel, I thought it was a perfect gem of a book. Sparely written, in prose that is understated yet poetic, it tells the story of a poor mining family. Evie struggles to take care of her coal miner sons and husband, helped by her daughter Rose. But then everyone is in the same boat, and her lot is no different from those of her neighbours.

However, her son Arthur leaves home, Rose marries, and slowly the family's life begins to unravel. I could cope with this. After all, not all novels can be uplifting. But the ending was so very sudden and so shocking, that it spoilt the novel for me. It was as though the author had been taking the reader on a journey through a beautiful but rather dark forest, only to drop him over a precipice on the last page. I can't elaborate as this would spoil the plot for other readers.

If, like me, you're a fan of Susan Hill, then this book is worth a try. But I wouldn't really recommend it.
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2.0 out of 5 stars ... big fan of Susan Hill and have read and enjoyed most of her work but this was a huge ..., 25 May 2015
This review is from: Black Sheep (Paperback)
I'm a big fan of Susan Hill and have read and enjoyed most of her work but this was a huge disappointment.

Her prose is as beautiful and poignant as ever and the novella is undoubtedly well crafted but this does not make up for the relentless misery of this work.

As other reviewers have said, the pit village setting and characterisation are well executed,if unoriginal. My only real criticism, although it's a big one, is that the book is relentlessly depressing without a glimmer of hope or humour, then it reaches its brutal and shocking conclusion.

This is Thomas Hardy without the jolly bits. Be warned.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad but well-written short novel from this master of story-telling, 1 Feb. 2014
By 
Rosemary Grave "Roe" (London, U.K.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Black Sheep (Hardcover)
As someone who has enjoyed the writing of Susan Hill for many years I can recommend this short novel. The atmosphere of the pit village is well described, the characters believable and the story itself heart-rending but satisfying. I will pass my copy on to a friend to read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars She is one of my favourite, 13 Feb. 2015
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This review is from: Black Sheep (Hardcover)
Came up to Susan Hill's usual high standards. She is one of my favourite authors
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Black Sheep
Black Sheep by Susan Hill (Hardcover - 24 Oct. 2013)
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