BRUCE CHATWIN by Nicholas Shakespeare

BRUCE CHATWIN

A Biography

KIRKUS REVIEW

An ingenious, outsize myth-meets-facts "life and works" of the charismatic global citizen and compulsive tale-teller.

Prizewinning political novelist Shakespeare (The Dancer Upstairs, 1997, etc.) carefully situates Chatwin (1940–88) in each

milieu where he sought, then outgrew, mentors: boarding school, Sotheby's, archaeological digs, the London Sunday Times, world

capitals' gay subworlds. An active if conflicted bisexual, he mesmerized relatives, friends, colleagues, lovers, and critics, who

turn up here to voice every shade of judgment concerning his marathon monologues ("Bruce on form could be the song the sirens

sang"—unless "he murdered people with talk"), his "ascetic de luxe" style of writing and living, his overdrive curiosity. (He

could have claimed as his credo "I need desperately to know certain things.") The incremental portrait of Elizabeth Chanler

proves that finding this resilient, independent, dedicated American was Chatwin's "greatest luck": Whatever his wildest forays,

their 23-year marriage remained his ultimate refuge. Shakespeare tracks the restless wanderer as he scavenges the world for

experience he encapsulated in dazzling verbal edifices that defy classification. In Patagonia (1978), the most legendary travel book

of its time, revived that region of Argentina; The Songlines (1987) appropriated and enlarged upon aboriginal cosmology. A thirst

for the marvelous pursued Chatwin to the last. Records confirm he died riddled by a rare South Asian fungus fostered by the

AIDS he never admitted to, which elevated him to baroque hallucinations and hypomania before his death at 48. Though

impressed by the man's unfettered brilliance, Shakespeare evenhandedly displays every persona constituting "The Chatwin

Effect," from solipsistic na‹f to literary wonder-worker, mountebank sponger to golden-haired Prometheus. This spirited tell-all

will make newcomers yearn to try his books.

An unflinching reconstruction of a singular writer's scorching trajectory through life: Speed makes it concise; fate makes

it haunting. (Family tree, photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 2000
ISBN: 0-385-49829-2
Page count: 704pp
Publisher: Talese/Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2000




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