Kirkus Reviews QR Code
ANATOMY OF RESTLESSNESS by Bruce Chatwin

ANATOMY OF RESTLESSNESS

Selected Writings 1969-1989

By Bruce Chatwin

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-670-86859-0
Publisher: Viking

 The travel writer and memoirist Andrew Harvey said of the late Chatwin (What Am I Doing Here?, 1989, etc.) that ``nearly every writer of my generation has wanted, above all, to have written his books.'' This collection of miscellaneous pieces published for the first time in book form will only fuel that envy. There is a little something here for everyone: short stories of smoky debauch, like ``Milk,'' or ``The Attractions of France,'' with its quick slap at racism; singular takes on place, from Timbuktu to the venues in which Chatwin liked to write--a mud hut, a signaling tower in Tuscany; a wicked social history of Capri during the early part of this century, featuring the exotic figures of Axel Munthe, Baron Jacques AdelswÑrd-Fersen, and Curzio Malaparte; an essay renouncing possessions and collecting (an interesting sidebar to his novel Utz); a critique of the ``second-rate'' Robert Louis Stevenson; a history of the doomed efforts of Antonio Soto to bring anarchism to Patagonia; formal essays on nomadism, pilgrimage, and the traveler's experience of returning home. He allows readers into his London bedsitter, though it is evident that he is more at home on the road, persistently drawn to strange landscapes and weird personalities (all the better if they are touched by evil or asceticism). The writing is tense, wound as tight as a clock's spring, the author seeming by turns sinister and superior and often on a very ragged edge, constantly testing his power of endurance, obsessively seeking a measure of himself in each piece. He crawls all over his topics, gets immersed, so much so that he has been labeled by some with his subjects' qualities: fascist, dilettante, deeply strange. But he is too fast-footed to fall for smoke and nonsense--confrontational and oblique, wry and enthralled, uneasy and opinionated, snob, amateur, always original--and specious categorizations simply don't stick. Even posthumously Chatwin remains, in a word, awesome.