On the Red Hill: Where Four Lives Fell into Place

This post is part of a series of posts about reading the 2020 Wainwright Prize longlist, full details here.

This book is initially less focused on nature than many of the books nominated for the Wainrights, however it is very much bound with place and identity. The novel focuses on one house, and two pairs of occupants. This is a book that describes a gay couple who lived in this house for a number of years before dying and leaving it to a second couple, Mike Parker and his partner. This book through describing the lives of the occupants talks about the different seasons and the relationships that people have through place – this includes the impact that the changing seasons have on mood and lives.

I have put some parts of the book that I choose to note down as I was reading below,

The author addresses the relationship between the countryside and sexuality:

“the countryside appears at all in gay histories, it is usually only as a place to escape from, and as swiftly as possible. For many of us, this is a pattern that never fitted. Since childhood, the green places have called us the loudest, and although we did the urban thing to burst from the closet, the lure of the rural soon overwhelmed the anonymity of the city. It didn’t even feel like a choice, but something intrinsic that would have been dangerous to resist, like the act of coming out itself.” location 292

The book discusses the impact of seasons on emotion:

“Many people express incredulity that suicide rates peak so dramatically in the spring, since it seems counter-intuitive. Not to me. If you are deep in depression, the winter months act as a projection of your inner self: dark, lethargic and almost comfortably locked in stasis. As the days lengthen, the skies brighten and the chorus of birdsong swells to a crescendo, the gulf widens with alarming speed, and suddenly it can no longer be bridged.” location 626

Mike Parker also talks about migration from England to Wales:

“The 2011 census, 21 per cent of the Welsh population was born in England, more than double the comparable figure for Scotland. While a fraction of this is accounted for by borderland births in Hereford, Shrewsbury or Chester, the bulk are those seeking some version of the downsizers’ dream. Since the 1960s, the number of escapees from urban England into rural Wales has ballooned, attracted by the space, scenery and relatively low property prices. The headline figure tells only part of the story, for the pattern of distribution is uneven, with a far higher proportion of incomers in the Welsh-speaking rural areas of the west, north and middle. There are very few heading to the former coalfields of the Valleys.” location 803

There is also some information about the the freedom that comes from the countryside:

“The first time I met the man who farms all around us, he told me plain: walk anywhere you like. As his family own nearly all of what used to be Rhiw Goch land, that was a blessed relief to hear. I often bump into him up in the fields, our dogs hurtling around together as we chat and laugh, sometimes for the best part of an hour. I’m an extra pair of eyes for him, too, untangling daft lambs from fences and reporting sickly ewes or ailing calves. And as my intimacy with the new landscape grew, so did my confidence and sense of freedom.” location 2,314

Finally the book touches on warming winter fires:

“Fire maintenance was a winter job that George took great pride in: chopping and stacking the wood, drying it out, bringing it in and getting it blazing in the living room, where B&B guests ate and relaxed. So many of the entries in the visitors’ book mention the fire, and it was one of the most vivid of Daniel’s memories: ‘They swore by [the Jøtul stove], and they had it perfect; knew to keep it going overnight, so they were always snug in that room. I never remember it being cold. It’s a very special type of warmth too – it has to be wood.’” location 3,598

Overall an interesting read that talks about how different people experience the landscape and how it changes people for the better.