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On The Black Hill

3.95  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,558 Ratings  ·  147 Reviews
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 twentieth century.

In depicting the lives of Benjamin and Lewis and their interactions with their small local community Chatwin comments movin
Paperback, 262 pages
Published December 3rd 1998 by Vintage Classics (first published 1982)
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Metaphorosis Traditional Welsh names often describe people by their occupation or origin. Watkins the Coffin, for example, is an undertaker. I don't recall all the…moreTraditional Welsh names often describe people by their occupation or origin. Watkins the Coffin, for example, is an undertaker. I don't recall all the names here, but Meg the Rock lives at the farm known as the Rock (short for Rock Among the Birches, I think). Theo lives in a yurt, which is presumably interpreted as a tent. I don't recall the Tump or Griffiths, but a tump is hillock, and a cwm is a depression in a hillside, and I believe a vron is a slope.(less)

Community Reviews

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Apr 07, 2015 Agnieszka rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, favorites, 2011, reviewed

I've never read Chatwin before , but his name brings to my mind voyages and distant countries . Meanwhile we receive unusual story , set on the farm called "The Vision " on the english-wales border.
" One of the windows looked out over the green fields of England;the other looked back into Wales , past a clump of larches, at the Black Hill ".

Protagonists are twin brothers Lewis and Benjamin Jones . When we meet them they are in their eighties and spent together almost whole life.
We meet theirs f
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
Take Haruki Murakami's novel, Kafka on the Shore. A delight to its juvenile readers, and why wouldn't it? Lots of props here: cats talking to humans, frogs falling like rain from the sky, a son having sex with his mother, a brother-and-sister love scene, killings, ghosts. Even the title hints of fantasy. After reading it, however, you feel empty. Like you've spent new year's eve all alone, you've watched the fireworks in the sky consume themselves, then you sleep with no remembrance of any joy.

Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
This is a nice, quiet little novel to pick up when you don't want anything upsetting or scary or suspenseful to read. It's very much place-driven and character-driven rather than dependent on an exciting plot. Chatwin covered 80 years in 250 pages, so there's no excess prose or boring passages. The beauty of the book is the way the author carries you away to a sheltered little farming community on the border of Wales and England. With very few words he richly creates all the small-town provincia ...more
Se este romance tivesse menos oitenta personagens, talvez o relato dos oitenta anos de vida dos gémeos Jones fosse muito mais interessante.
Michael Boxall
Mar 03, 2012 Michael Boxall rated it it was amazing
Chatwin had a beautiful way of writing, usually described as spare. I collect sentences that please my ear and write them out by hand in a hard-backed notebook. I read On the Black Hill in 1982, when it was published, and among the half-dozen or so sentences I copied were the following:

"Crossing the pasture one evening, he watched the swallows glinting low over the dandelion clocks, and the sheep standing out against the sunset, each one ringed with an aureole of gold--and understood why the Lam
Inderjit Sanghera
May 11, 2013 Inderjit Sanghera rated it really liked it
Nabokov once states that all great stories are fairy tales in the sense that each work of fiction was a magical creation of a new world, 'On The Black Hill' is broadly speaking a "realistic" work of fiction but Chatwin is able to imbue it (especially the depiction of the Jones brothers childhood) with a magic, not with the magic of fiction but the magic of life. 'On The Black Hill' is the story of the lives of two twins in rural Wales. Nothing much happens in their lives, neither travel further ...more
Wendy Chard
May 10, 2012 Wendy Chard rated it it was amazing
This was a novel of almost unutterable beauty. Chatwin's writing is beyond lyrical and has a real rooting in time and place. Oh, to be in Wales at the turn of the last century! I can just imagine how bleak the winters were, and how spectacular the summers.

It was poignant to view the passing of time and the changes it wrought. This story felt different because of the time span covered. I've read plenty of novels set in the rural 1900s, but have not yet seen one modernise this world as Chatwin di
Jan 07, 2010 Trisha rated it really liked it
A beautifully written, rather brooding story that's set in the wild but beautiful Welsh countryside and follows the lives of two twin brothers who were born at the very beginning of the 20th century. From the start they were inseparable and so closely bonded that they seemed to have been able to sense when one or the other was in danger or pain. They remained bachelors all their lives, sharing everything as they continued to live on the farm that their father had bought years ago. The book's cha ...more
May 29, 2014 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Always I have associated Bruce Chatwin's work with travel to far-off places. This time, with On the Black Hill, he threw me for a loop. We the a whole lifetime lived in one place, on the border between Radnor (in Wales) and Hereford (in England). The lifetime is of a pair of twins named Lewis and Benjamin Jones, two bachelors who slept with each other in their mother's bed on the old farm called The Vision.

Because I had a suspicion of what the book was about, I did not expect to like it. Not on
Sally Tarbox
'For forty two years, Lewis and Benjamin Jones slept side-by-side in their parents' bed at their farm ...', 20 Dec 2014

Set on the Welsh/English border, this is the story of elderly twins in a remote rural community, opening in the late 19th century, with their parents' courtship, and concluding in the 70s, with the twins in old age.
As other reviewers have observed, nothing massive happens; there is interaction with the local aristocrats, the Bickertons; with various neighbours, notably the unfo
2.5 stars - Metaphorosis Reviews

Brothers, twins in body and spirit, spend much of their lives together on a farm at the Welsh-English border.

I've not read Bruce Chatwin before, but have heard of him mainly as a travel writer. Certainly, in On the Black Hill, his prose here is simple and unembroidered. However, he demonstrates that it is also possible to be too plain. The events of the book, tangled and of great potential interest, pass by like notes in an almanac. On this day, this happened; on
Owen Curtsinger
May 23, 2012 Owen Curtsinger rated it liked it
There was something about this novel that didn't strike me until after I read it. For most of the time that I was actually in the thick of reading, I didn't feel particularly attached to any of the characters. From reading his other books, I feel that Mr. Chatwin had a sense of observation more powerful than most writers of his time, and that certainly shines through in this first novel of his. The sense of community and landscape is made tangible through the little details that Chatwin is so go ...more
May 11, 2010 Steve rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
Since first reading this years ago, I'd forgotten how different it is from the rest of Chatwin's books: instead of the motif of an individual going out to see the world that recurs in his fiction and nonfiction alike, On The Black Hill is the story of people who stay home with stubborn insistence while the world and its changes arrive on their doorstep, welcome or not. The writing is gorgeous, grounded in the details of farming and landscape while simultaneously exploring the abstractions of his ...more
Jun 20, 2015 Jenn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 1001-books
This is the best. Heart-rending in a very under-stated, quiet sort of way. It is the tale of two brothers, twins, who spend their whole lives (with some small exceptions) on a remote Welsh hill country farm. It spans the 20th century, though all the turmoil of that century largely bypass the brothers.
They have a harsh father, and a clever and devoted mother who they both adore and it is she who provides the focus in their lives. It follows their late Victorian childhood, schooling, a rare trip t
Sian Lile-Pastore
this was the second time round for me. I'd previously read this about 15 or 20 years ago and remembered enjoying it then, or maybe it was more that I read a great chunk of Chatwin back then and enjoyed 'Songlines' and kind of lumped this in with it. I am fascinated by Chatwin as an author and a person, and I've been reading some of his letters alongside this and finding them interesting and touching.

For me, 'On the Black Hill' is just a bit slow and claustrophobic... but has some lovely little e
Aug 02, 2015 Kelly rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
Brilliant book! A gentle, meandering story about the lives of twin brothers who live out their years in a rural farm on the Welsh border. It's one of those quiet books where not much actually happens, there's no big story arc as such. A story that is very much rooted in the beautiful minutiae of everyday life.
Jan 20, 2016 Kristel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a five star book for me, loved this story and it read so easily that I was able to finish this book in record time for me. This author died at 48. That is a loss to the literary world. The story of a place on the border of Wales and England that began in the 1890s and goes to the 1980s. So a span of 100 years makes this a fresh look of how life has changed. The Twins are the main protagonist but here are many other characters that add to the story. My book stated on the cover leaf; Bruce ...more
Jan 10, 2015 Mike rated it it was amazing
One of the most truly memorable novels I've read in recent years, lives in place on the Welsh border over the course of the 20th century.
Marion Husband
Mar 06, 2014 Marion Husband rated it it was amazing
Wonderful, lyrical, poetical; one day leads to the next with not much plot to speak of - almost like a series of short stories.
Mary Stanwood
Nov 18, 2015 Mary Stanwood rated it liked it
Though this book didn't move me, I can see why others would like it. The writing style is quite nice. However, I found myself feeling disconnected from the characters, as if I'm reading a piece of legendary lore or fable. But, perhaps I would feel differently if I lived in England or Wales...
Tom Johnson
May 10, 2015 Tom Johnson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
...many years ago I, by chance, picked up and read IN PATAGONIA, deciding to find another Chatwin book, found a copy of ON THE BLACKHILL. Well chosen Tom - the life's journey of the Jones twins was the best part (though cruel, difficult, frustrating, hard) as the end is...well for most of us, the closing moments offer little glory. Independent People, was of a similar theme; rural isolation, mind numbing labor, cruelty, ignorance, prejudice, the hammering down of the few who would rise above. Th ...more
Jun 04, 2015 Neil rated it it was amazing

The reason i read.
Jan 30, 2016 Eadie rated it really liked it
Reading this book is like taking a trip to a farm on the English-Welsh border. There isn't much happening and the everyday things that are normal happenings to us are a big deal at The Vision Farm. Chatwin's writing is very gentle and gives us a feeling of adoration for the two brothers that have such devotion to each other. Without much of a plot, the book is place driven and character driven. I would recommend it to anyone who loves to read about rural nature.
Vince Donovan
Apr 16, 2009 Vince Donovan rated it it was amazing
Another Chatwin masterpiece. I always imagined him sweating over this manuscript, polishing it lovingly in some rustic farmhouse in rural England. I read (much later) that he wrote it quickly, while in a hospital dying of AIDS.

The story concerns twin brothers, farmers in the English countryside, and how their lives unfold. There is the usual Chatwin attention to language, to nature, to human tenderness.
Linda Price Dean
Jan 08, 2016 Linda Price Dean rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 1001-atw80
A lovely gentle book set in my part of the world; the twins lived on the border between Wales and Hereford (with the border running through their staircase) and my home is on the border of Wales and Shropshire (I can see the Shropshire hills on the right and the hills of Powys on the left from my balcony). I grew up with 'Ivor the engine' stories with Morgan the roundabout, Idris the dragon, Owen the signal, Evans the song and Jones the steam (now on YouTube) and so this book felt like a continu ...more
Feb 01, 2016 Beverly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-bymrbyd
This book won the popular vote for the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die group for this month. It is basically the story of identical twins, Lewis and Benjamin Jones, who were born on their family farm on the border between England and Wales. The boys, like most identical twins, are extraordinarily close. One of them actually feels the pain when the other one is hurt. The story takes us through their lives, highlighting their interactions with their family and community. The lives within t ...more
Nov 04, 2014 Bob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the type of novel that sets the scene in the present (around 1980, when it was published) and then jumps back 100 years to tell us how we got there. It traces the lives of twin, now 80-year-old, Welsh brothers who are more than usually psychically attached, and the lives of their parents. It is a somewhat elegaic look at a vanishing rural life and the sense of place is a big part of the appeal. The books I have read in the past six years by John Wain, Kingsley Amis and Richard Hughes wit ...more
Jan 03, 2014 Ria rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A tale set in a Welsh farming community that examines in great detail the petty squabbles and minutiae of village life.
The story starts when the integral characters are adults with a fleeting mention of the twins Lewis and Benjamin looking at a wedding picture of their parents, from then on its a retrospective look at not just their lives but also their parents so essentially you are reading the history or saga of generations.
The action centres at first on Mary and Amos, their lives, marriage an
Feb 28, 2014 Marc rated it it was ok
Chatwin was a writer with many faces, in nothing this book compares to his other work. It's a traditional, pastoral novel in the tradition of Thomas Hardy and even a bit D.H.Lawrence. Chatwin has composed a very classical story about the life of two twin-brothers, living together on their farm on the border of England and Wales, and for about 80 years, inseparable, whilst the great events of the twentieth century pass their window, without leaving much traces. Written with lots of details, about ...more
Jun 25, 2011 Velvetink rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2011-read, uk
bought today 1 of 12 books for $10 the lot.

loaned to pop
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Charles Bruce Chatwin was an English novelist and travel writer. He won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel On the Black Hill (1982). In 1972, Chatwin interviewed the 93-year-old architect and designer Eileen Gray in her Paris salon, where he noticed a map of the area of South America called Patagonia, which she had painted. "I've always wanted to go there," Bruce told her. "So have ...more
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