Silbury Hill in Wiltshire has inspired and perplexed people for generations. Artists and poets have fathomed their deepest thoughts searching for the hill's hidden meanings, archaeologists have tunneled through earth for fragments that prove its purpose. But for all this human endeavour, Silbury Hill remains a mystery.
We do know it is the largest prehistoric mound in Europe. But was it once an island, moated by water? Was it a place of worship and celebration, perhaps a vast measure of the passing seasons? Along with Stonehenge and Avebury, was it part of a healing landscape or a physical memory of the long-ago dead?
Silbury Hill is the sum of all that we project. A blank screen where human dreams and nightmares flicker. The hill has been part of Adam Thorpe's own life since his schooldays at Marlborough, which he would often escape in the surrounding downlands. He has carried Silbury ever since, through his teenage years in Cameroon, into his adulthood in southern England and France: its presence fused to each landscape which became his home.
On Silbury Hill is Adam Thorpe's own projection onto Silbury's grassy slopes. Twenty years after the publication of his classic novel Ulverton, the acclaimed poet and novelist revisits the landscape which inspired him. It is a chalkland memoir told in fragments and family snapshots, skillfully built, layer on layer, from Britain's ancient and modern past.
Adam Thorpe was born in Paris in 1956 and brought up in India, Cameroon and southern England. His first collection of poetry, Mornings in the Baltic, was published in 1988 and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Award. His first novel, Ulverton, a panoramic view of rural English history, was published to great critical acclaim in 1992 and is now considered a modern classic. He has since published nine novels, five collections of poetry and two books of short stories. He has also published new translations of Flaubert's Madame Bovary and Emile Zola's Therese Raquin, had a stage play performed almost entirely in Berkshire dialect, and written numerous radio plays. He lives in France with his family and currently teaches at the École Superieure des Beaux Arts de Nimes and at the University of Nimes.
"A book that is not only fascinating to read but a pleasure to hold in the hand."
– Hilary Mantel, Vogue
"You should burrow in and discover this for yourself, but what makes On Silbury Hill such a rich and evocative book of place are the myriad two-way hauntings he proposes between people and landscapes over time."
– Paul Farley, The Guardian
"It seems to me to be everything that a book ought to be or should want to be: beautiful, suggestive, personal, knowing and uncertain, old but of now, funny and modest and ripe in its lived-in ways."
– Tim Dee, author of Four Fields
"In a fascinating series of interwoven strands"
– Bel Mooney, Daily Mail
"a remarkable and moving mix of history, autobiography and genius loci "
– William Boyd, New Statesman
"His writing spills out hot and fierce as summer wind, scouring the chalky, ancient Ridgeway and buffering up against the confounding slopes of Silbury Hill itself, concluding that 'ingenuity and accident and maybe a dose of genius' played their part in its creation. The same could be said of this excellent book."
– Vicky Carol, Big Issue
" [...] impressive elegance and concision [...] . evocative and moving [...] a lament for something modern man has largely lost [...] a deeply personal and idiosyncratic memoir."
– Anthony Head, TLS
"He seeks a blend of the personal and the scientific [...] that raises profound questions about what archaeology can understand of the past. With the book's attractive feel, and clear and often memorable writing, 'interpretive archaeology' never came so seductively packaged."
– Mike Pitts, British Archaeology
"Honest enough to admit that we cannot hope to do more than conjecture [...] and yet sympathetic to successive archaeological, psychological, poetic and spiritual interpretations, Thorpe proves an engaging guide to a landscape steeped in secrets."
– Greg Neale, Resurgence & Ecologist
"What I particularly love about the whole book [...] is the openness of this dry, wry, sometimes angry, often self-deprecating historian to [...] the intrusion of memory and magic."
– Ruth Davis, Nature and the common good