Under the Sun. The Letters of Bruce Chatwin by Elizabeth Chatwin and Nicholas Shakespeare (ed)
|Under the Sun. The Letters of Bruce Chatwin by Elizabeth Chatwin and Nicholas Shakespeare (ed)|
|Reviewer: Andy Lancaster|
|Summary: Bruce Chatwin was best known as a travel writer – this collection both confirms his 'wanderlust' but also clearly establishes that his writing was far more of a creative process than the usual journalistic approach to travel writing. Nicholas Shakespeare’s selection and passages of narration makes this a mix of the biographical and the autobiographical, a fascinating insight into a restless spirit, but also into the experimentation and literary reflection that made him outstanding amongst his peers.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 560||Date: September 2010|
|Publisher: Jonathan Cape|
Anyone who has read 'In Patagonia' knows that Bruce Chatwin somehow stands out amongst the very competitive field of travel writers that emerges from the 1970s and 80s. There was a quality in his approach and his prose which made him somehow different from Thoreux and Severin, Newby and Mattheson, who while they all have their strengths lack something of Chatwin's ideosyncratic insight into and engagement with the worlds through which he walked.
This collection of letters reveals some of the complexities that made Chatwin – his brilliant understanding of art, especially object d’art, from almost every period thanks to his work at Sotheby's, his fascination for history, especially early civilization, his ability to flit through a host of relationships and charm everyone from the native drivers to those in highest society. But most of all they relate the constant struggle with his desire to find the right words and shape to create and recreate his experience.
There are of course sections of his correspondence which deal with the practical issues of money and accommodation, arrangements, socialising and mutual friends. And to be fair these are mainly of interest only to the Chatwin buff. However, they do create an image of the fleeting figure on the move from one friendship to the next, one house to the next, one country to the next. The constant restlessness of these letters do give a clue to the excitement of his works – the butterfly nature of his mind, seeming to pick up the most fascinating small fact of contact with person or object and hold it under the light of his scholarship and reflection. What emerges from the letters is that this is in fact the result of much writing and rewriting.
And through this constantly shifting background of his enthusiasms and 'making ends meet', emerges repeatedly his creative battle with his works. Those who know 'Utz' and 'The Songlines' will find a good deal here about their birth and development, but perhaps most intriguing is the book that he never completed, the exploration of the nomadic way of life which he felt held the key to not only understanding human history but the human soul itself. A book that perhaps was intended as much as anything to uncover his understanding of himself.
Corsair by Tim Severin is a venture by that travel writer into the world of fiction, and is much more obviously a fictionalisation than Chatwin's blend of fact and fiction. The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain by Paul Theroux is a closer comparison, because it deals with some of the issues of the 1980s in Britain which Chatwin's letters chronicle, but also shows the kind of 'outside observer' travel writing which Chatwin moves away from, to the attempt at recreating the (albeit semi-fictional) insider view. Nicholas Shakespeare wrote Inheritance.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Under the Sun. The Letters of Bruce Chatwin by Elizabeth Chatwin and Nicholas Shakespeare (ed) at Amazon.com.
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