Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Lyrical, Pastoral Novel: On the Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin

"--they would stand over her patchwork quilt and peer at the black velvet stars and the hexagons of printed calico that had once been her dresses."
Identical twin brothers Lewis and Benjamin sleep in their parent's 1899 oak four-poster bed, hung with the cretonne hangings of larkspur and roses their mother made as a newlywed, with linen sheets worn to holes, the mattresses sunk into two troughs. On the bed was the patchwork quilt their mother had made, "to remember me by," cut from the calico dresses of her youth in India and her best black funeral skirt. From their bedroom window they could see the Black Hill.

The house remained unchanged for the twins were unwilling to dismantle the memories of their mother embedded in the wallpaper, the Georgian pianoforte, the Coronation and Jubilee mugs. Hereford had been their home; though Lewis loved maps and far off places, he never left. Benjamin's love for his twin was like a binding vine holding Lewis back from pursuing a greater life. People come into their world bringing love and tradegy, hope and disappointment, and a few answered prayers.

On The Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin is a quiet story spanning the 20th c, full of eccentric and memorable Welsh villagers whose lives remain rooted in a past rapidly crumbling around them. A world outsiders consider quaint, antediluvian, or collectible, or a haven from the modern world.

I love this kind of novel that elicits a nostalgia for a world I have never known, bringing forward the forgotten people whose lives merit our compassion and admiration.

Toward the end of the novel a 1960s drop-out comes to Black Hill and becomes friends with the brothers. Theo invites the twins to his yurt, and taking a lotus position recits poetry, sharing his favorite poem by Li Po:

What is the use of talking, and there is no end of talking,
There is no end of things in the heart.
I call in the boy,
Have him sit on his knees here,
To seal this,
And send it a thousand miles, thinking. 
The poem, Exile's Letter, translated by Ezra Pound is one of my favorites as well, the story of parted friends and the nostalgia and longing for their shared days together.

On the Black Hill is lyrical nostalgia, though few of us would be willing to return to the rugged and harsh rural life depicted, we envy the characters' connection to the past, their community, and rootedness to the earth.

This new ebook version of On the Black Hill includes an illustrated biography of Bruce Chatwin.

Bruce Chatwin is the author of In Patagonia and The Songlines (also available from Open Road Media), books I enjoyed reading when they were first published in the 1970s. On the Black Hill won the Whitbread Literary Award for First Novel.

I recieved a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.


On the Black Hill
Bruce Chatwin
Open Road Media
Publication Oct 18, 2016
ISBN: 9781504038348

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