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On the Black Hillby Bruce Chatwin
Synopses & Reviews
Lewis and Benjamin Jones, identical twins, were born with the century on a farm on the English-Welsh border. For eighty years they live on the farm—sharing the same clothes, tilling the same soil, sleeping in the same bed. Their lives and the lives of their neighbors—farmers, drovers, clergymen, traders, coffin-makers—are only obliquely touched by the chaos of twentieth-century progress.
Nonetheless, the twins’ world—a few square miles of Welsh countryside—is rich in the oddities, the wonders, and the tragedies of the human experience. In this extraordinary novel Bruce Chatwin has captured every nuance of the Welsh landscape and of the lives and souls of the people who lived there.
"In contrast to his two earlier books, Chatwin has set this novel within a few square miles of Welsh border farmland. The book chronicles the lives of twin brothers who have spent their lives sheep farming on the homestead called 'The Vision'—appropriate, since it relates to the novel's epigraph on the quest for the heavenly city, and to the closing chapters when Benjamin and Lewis hear a sermon on the need for an 'abiding city.' The theme of twinship is intriguing, but their parents, Amos and Mary—a rough, angry, uneducated man married to a refined, strong-willed woman—and their stormy relationship are more interesting than their sons. By the end of the book, the brothers have aged into absurd but prosperous old bachelors, still both asexual and doting on the memory of their mother in their eighties. Chatwin's style recalls Hardy and Lawrence as he paints his bleak landscape and its eccentric inhabitants, yet without the poignant narrative. Through the long time sequence of the novel, he focuses in a cool, detached way on the narrow isolation of country living and the human deformities it breeds. The author is in full control of his location and the social and economic changes of the 20th century, but the plot is weak and the reader can't get involved with the emotions of any character long enough to build momentum. This is not a very moving or absorbing story, but one we admire for the vividly and poetically imagined setting and characters." Reviewed by Daniel Weiss, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
About the Author
Bruce Chatwin (1940-1989) was the author of In Patagonia, The Viceroy of Ouidah, On the Black Hill, The Songlines, and Utz. His other books are What Am I Doing Here and Anatomy of Restlessness, posthumous anthologies of shorter works, and Far Journeys, a collection of his photographs that also includes selections from his travel notebooks.
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