Book Review: The Hills Is Lonely

The Hills Is LonelyThe Hills is LonelyThe Hills is Lonely by Lillian Beckwith

Read for my 2013 Reading Challenge, this book has been on my shelves for years after being passed along to me by my mom as one I should read.

Sorry mom. I didn’t like it. I kept going with it because of her recommendation, but found it plodding and dull. The characterizations are almost cartoonish, and I never got a good sense of the author herself. Mostly it felt very, very dated, and it simply didn’t age well. Or maybe it’s just that the supposed humor in the book didn’t match up with my sense of humor at all, so where some have found it amusing I found it tedious. I also don’t typically like books that are made up of a series of vignettes rather than an overarching narrative, and this one was very much in the vignette-realm. Chronological yes, but chronology does not make a narrative.

Despite some reviews I’ve found calling it a novel, based on what I can discover, it’s a memoir that’s been fictionalized a bit (renaming the island where she lived, changing names for people and making some composite characters). Those sorts of changes seem pretty common in the memoir genre, so I have no qualms considering it that rather than a novel. And if I needed more support for my case, the Library of Congress classifies it as nonfiction.

Clearly others have liked it, enough for it to be republished in 2002, but it wasn’t a hit for me. My mom still loved it though, and wants the book back, especially since it’s been so long. If you do like it, Beckwith wrote two additional books that continued the theme – The Sea For BreakfastThe Sea for Breakfast and The Loud HaloThe Loud Halo. I have no plans to read either of them though, so if you have read them, please let me know how they compare to this one. 🙂

Publisher’s Description:
The Hills is Lonely tells a simple tale: needing to recuperate from an illness, the author finds a suitable retreat on the Hebridean island of Bruach, whose inhabitants, routines, and rituals are as eccentric and entertaining as any reader could wish. Beckwith’s narrative describing island life is filled with humor, surprise, affection, and keen observance. Originally published in 1959.

Book Details

Title: The Hills is LonelyThe Hills is Lonely
Author: Lillian Beckwith
Category: Nonfiction / Memoir
My Rating: 2 Stars

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!


  1. Jeaneene says:

    You are the first person I’ve ever heard or read who did not like this book. I found this to be a laugh out loud tale for which I’ve never found it’s equal–except, perhaps Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf. (I later found out this was fraudulent research and was stunned at the news.) I think, perhaps, expecting a novel, you were disappointed in the lack of story arc, and, as you said, you found it not to be funny. Without seeming judgemental, perhaps there is more here in that perhaps it was a book that you did not want to like, or that the compulsion to read it was external or forced? Or, perhaps you are just a very different person than your mother or me (and my mother, as well as others) who literally laughed hard and long at the characters in this book. It’s one of my favorite books.

    • I think it was mostly the humor didn’t mesh with mine. I went into it thinking it was a memoir, and then was surprised to see it being called a novel by some others, so that’s when I went digging a bit more to see if I’d completely imagined it being a memoir.

      While I guess I could have been unconsciously wanting to not like the book, I don’t think that was the case. I thought it was one my mom loved (and found out later that she hadn’t liked it all that much; instead it was my grandmother who really liked it), and generally if she recommends a memoir I’ll like it as well, so I kept on with it past when I would have normally set it aside as not for me.

      Humor is such a tricky thing – last year a book that had me laughing out loud was a pick for my book club. No one else found the author as amusing as I did. Other humor picks they’ve tried have also had mixed results, so I don’t think it’s just me having an oddball sense of humor. 🙂

      • Jeaneene says:

        You are absolutely right. Humor is tricky in the written form. Sarcasm, I think, is mostly only perceived by others who either grew up with it, or who use sarcasm themselves. Hyperbole is tricky, too. It can seem outlandish to the point where one loses interest. I guess that’s why humor writers are in high demand. Thanks for your reply. By the way, what was the title of the book you found funny, but no one else did?

        • It’s Not About the Tapas. She’s very sarcastic and what had me laughing came across to others as whiny and bitchy. I wouldn’t have been as amused if she was actually *saying* those things to the people she was interacting with, but when she was just relating her inner thoughts, well, a lot of her thoughts came close to what I might have been thinking in the same situations.

          I think you’re right, that that’s why humor writers are in high demand – it’s hard to do in general, it’s hard to do for a wide audience, and it’s hard to have it last – it seems like it ages a lot faster than other forms of writing.

          • Jeaneene says:

            I think you have a point about the longevity of sarcasm, yet look at Jane Austen. Her descriptions of people are still found to be funny by many. I think you may have hit the nail on the head. though, with the inner thoughts (versus actually being that mean to people). I think for most of us we’d love to say something cutting when stupidity arises, but that kind of behavior is no better than the offender’s, so we feel uncomfortable with it. I have six books to get though right now, but when those are read, I’ll check out It’s Not About the Tapas. I love the title.

          • I won’t let me nest a reply any further.

            You are so right about Austen, but then again she’s not exactly the typical author. Just because she can pull something off doesn’t mean everyone else can.

            I wonder if some of it is also fiction vs. nonfiction and how that relates to inner thoughts vs. actually saying some things. There are novels I’ve read and enjoyed the characters in them quite a bit, but if it were real life I don’t think I’d like them at all. Funny for a story rather than fun to be around and spend time with, if that makes sense.


  1. […] The Hills Is Lonely I’d saved this one to read, expecting to love it as I thought my mom had. Read it and thought it was dated and dull, and only then asked my mom about it. Turns out my grandmother loved it, not my mom. That makes a lot more sense. […]

Leave a Comment