WITH CHATWIN: Portrait of a Writer by Susannah Clapp

WITH CHATWIN: Portrait of a Writer

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Clapp, who was Bruce Chatwin's dedicated editor at the British publisher Jonathan Cape, offers a delightful remembrance of the celebrated travel writer and novelist, drawing on her own experiences and on those of his closest friends. Blond, bright-eyed, beautiful, and brilliant: Chatwin exuded a mystique (amplified by his own self-mythifying tales) that captivated almost everyone who met him--as well as those who only read his books. Even a Welsh barmaid, observing his ""theatrical way,"" said that if he ""had been born in the twelfth century, he would have been a wizard."" Clapp wonderfully captures the ebullient conversationalist with an impeccable eye for works of art (in his 20s he was a rapidly rising star at Sotheby's) and a taste for immaculate spareness in his surroundings. Many of the facts here will be known to readers of Chatwin's books and collected essays, but Clapp adds much in the way of frank discussion of his bisexuality, along with the impenetrable mystery of his long marriage, and his sad deterioration and death from AIDS in 1989. Along the way, she charts his development as a writer, relating how she worked with him to carve out the slender, elegant In Patagonia from an unwieldy manuscript; how his novel On the Black Hill drew on experiences from his own childhood and on people and places he visited in Wales; how The Songlines finally freed him from his obsessive need to write about nomadism as the central human experience and allowed him to write his final work, Utz; and how that work showed a radical change in a man who had always shunned the accumulation of things and, facing death, became obsessed with the idea of collecting. (Not idealizing her subject, she also honestly analyzes the flaws she finds in his writings.) ""There was always a thin line between Bruce being brilliant and Bruce being batty,"" Clapp notes affectionately. This tribute captures both sides with grace and charm--a must-read for all his fans.

Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 1997
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Knopf