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Book Review: On Silbury Hill by Adam Thorpe

on silbury hill cover

Thorpe, A. (2014) On Silbury Hill Little Toller Books ISBN 978 1 908213 24 2

All impressive detective-work and field research aside, On Silbury Hill is a fine stand-alone memoir. But it’s more than that. It is a love letter, a homage to an object, a place and a symbol that has provided succour and mystery and hope and wonder – and will long continue to do so. Ben Myers reviewing On Silbury Hill on the Caught by the River website

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Intimate, with more than a touch of a private scrapbook, the text of On Silbury Hill by Adam Thorpe, author of Ulverton, is an often beautifully written personal reflection on a Neolithic landscape about which very little is known or understood.

Archeology. Wiccan ceremony on All Hallows’ Eve. Theory and poetry on time and space.  Adam Thorpe’s chalk land memoir, told in fragments and snapshots, takes a circuitous route around enigmatic Silbury Hill, the largest prehistoric mound in Europe. Was it a place of worship and celebration, perhaps a vast measure of the passing seasons?

‘Landscape of the Megaliths’ by Paul Nash

Today Silbury is a blank screen and On Silbury Hill is Thorpe’s own projection onto its grassy slopes.

Sadly, at times, he struggles to synthesise his ideas of place and history and there are uneasy shifts from landscape to painful childhood memories of boarding school’s casual brutality and boredom. It makes for an ultimately unsatisfying essay that’s in need of further crafting, structure and a greater sense of purpose.

Paul Farley, in his Guardian review, describes it as similar to ‘finding interpretation boards juxtaposed with old diaries, field notes and family albums’; that take us on a gorgeous journey through (often beautifully written) memoir, meditations on religion, historical re-imaginings, nature writing and archaeology, but in the end never quite arrives.

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Further Reading:

  1. Rachel Cooke in The Observer 20.07.14
  2. Paul Farley in The Guardian 17.07.14
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