I hadn’t heard of Bruce Chatwin before so spotting this book on the bookshelves and on my list came with no preconceptions (especially thanks to the ambiguous cover – unlike the other book I’m currently forcing myself to battle through, whose tedious cover art matches its content and does not inspire me to read on. I’ve been trying to avoid public transport as much as possible so as to avoid having to read any more of it).
On the Black Hill is set on the rural border of Wales and England and the Welsh/English divide runs throughout the novel; epitomised in Amos Jones’ marriage to English vicar’s daughter Mary Latimer. From this union comes twins Benjamin and Lewis Jones, the main characters of the novel. At the beginning the twins are introduced in their old age, living together in the house in which they grew up and sleeping together in their dead mother’s bed. The twins function almost as two halves of a whole with Benjamin preferring household tasks and handling their finances and Lewis tackling the running of the farm (well into his 80’s); and each twin being painfully aware of when the other one is hurt or in danger.
Usually learning that the main characters had remained in the same house living the same small lives well into old age with only a handful of trips out of their small town would make me feel sad but I didn’t get that with On the Black Hill: possibly because the twins convey a sense of peacefulness. Behind the protective veil of their rural existence the twins watch many of the major events of the twentieth century pass them by, while avoiding as best they can any direct involvement in modern developments. The book presents a study of the Jones family and all the characters are very well written: it was a really good read.