Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Much from Little

I cannot remember how I found the recommendation for this novel, but On the Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin has been on my "wish" list at Paperback Swap for a while. I have found some gems of prose in it, but this little bit illustrates how much characterization may be made from just a few words. It is about 1900 and Sam is a Welsh-border father-in-law who has taken foolishly to doting on his son's new bride:

Sam had the face of a sad old clown.

Fifty years of fisticuffs had flattened his nose. A lonely incisor lingered in his lower jaw. Nets of red string covered his eyeballs and his eyelids seemed to rustle as he blinked. The presence of an attractive woman drove him to acts of reckless flirtation. (p. 38)

And now, because I cannot help it, I offer a moving paragraph from the framing introduction of the book, which describes the lives of that bride's twin sons, now 80yo bachelors about to pass their farm on to a grand nephew:

So now, when they looked at that faded wedding picture; when they saw their father's face framed in fiery red sideburns (even in a sepia photo you could tell he had bright red hair); when they saw the leg-o'-mutton sleeves of their mother's dress, the roses in her hat, and the ox-eye daisies in her bouquet; and when they compared her sweet smile with Kevin's, they knew that their lives had not been wasted and that time, in its healing circle, had wiped away the pain and the anger, the shame and the sterility, and had broken into the future with the promise of new things. (p. 14)

On the Black Hill
, by Bruce Chatwin. New York: Penguin Books, 1984

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