Book Review: Hill


Giono, Jean

2016 English translation by Paul Eprile of 1929 French original

New York Review Books, 2016

Hill begins with a description of an isolated hamlet in the foothills of Mt. Lure in Provence in the early 1900’s.  Once a notable market town, history left it behind and now, hours by foot to the nearest town, it consists of 4 houses and those who inhabit them.  It is, as can be expected, a close knit rural community where the lives and occupations of the inhabitants are tightly knit together.

While tending his olive grove one of the residents sees a lizard.  Grasped by a sudden need to demonstrate his power, the man cuts the lizard in two with his spade. Suddenly he becomes concerned – his thoughts turn to what he has done and if he has in fact injured the very being which keeps him alive.  His thoughts lead him to the view that everything around him is alive – that the earth feels pain when he digs, that the death of a lizard has made him an enemy of the ground on which he walks.  He heads home and then talks to the other men of the village about it, who compare various signs they have individually observed and who decided to guard against the coming of whatever evil may befall them.  They take up watch stations, they look to their weapons, but whatever it is comes creeping in anyway.

A girl gets seriously ill, the well stops running, the village elder raves.  Taken together the village becomes even more tense, and the time honored structure of daily work and amicable relationships begins to fray.  It takes the onset of an immediate and real threat – a wildfire heading toward their homes – to get them back together. After escaping destruction by a narrow margin the men are more convinced than ever that something is up, and convince themselves that the village elder is somehow involved.  Desperate, they determine to kill him, but he dies of natural causes just as the assigned man nears his house.  The well begins running, the sick girl gets better, and all is as it was before – on the surface.



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