8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
On the Black Hill,
This review is from: On The Black Hill (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
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. But because the brothers grow up so stunted by their upbringing and environment, and because of the total social and mental helplessness of all people in the community, many events that would normally be considered minor and of little impact in our lives become enormous incursions into the farm life. This gives them a meaning and a tragic nature one would not normally assign them. At no point does the book even leave the direct surroundings of the Welsh borderlands, and yet it is more intriguing than many a story of Patagonia. An accomplishment.