Bruce Chatwin was one of those rarities in the world of English letters. An 'artiste.' A true craftsman of the word. His pristine, illuminous sentences are models of how the English language can and should be used. With nothing superflous, each word and each comma masterfully measured, Chatwin's style beams like an eternal sun amidst the often grey, turbid sky of English prose. Chatwin did for modern English prose what Larkin did for modern English poetry; he slayed the dragon of prolixity. He sped things up, showered them with lots of sun and then sent them on their way. A liberator with the pen.
This sprawling collection of miscellaneous stories, sketches and essays comprise some of Chatwin's best work. Unfortunately, mere beginnings, a glimpse into what could have been had Chatwin lived longer. The bio pieces like 'I Always Wanted to Go to Patagonia,' and 'A Place to Hang Your Hat,' poignantly examine the forces behind this brilliant wanderer. The obsession with exotic places and persons, a lonely, fatherless childhood and his insatiable curiosity are all laid bare with humor and pathos. With his essays on the 'The Nomadic Alternative,'(the strongest part of the collection) Chatwin extends his own incurable migratory needs into a well-argued case for the nomadic lifestyle. Chatwin claims that our most natural---and most desirable---state is that of constant migration, carrying little and not staying for long in any one place. With the building of cities, man became 'thing-oriented' and began to hoard his precious property behind walls to protect against the violent forces from without. Chatwin argues that if we hoarded less, we would evoke less greed, less aggression and thus, cause much fewer problems for ourselves. While Chatwin's arguments have their grey spots, they always manage to challenge the reader with something original.
The other parts of the collection, mostly stories and literary reviews, are enjoyable, even if not on the same level of the other pieces. Yet, Chatwin's style keeps you turning the pages even when the content doesn't. With his terse, energetic sentences, he shows a world virginal and ready for discovery.
While only genuine Chatwinophiles will get worked up about this collection, those interested in quality writing would be wise to take a rest stop here. And for those with pack and pen, ready to conquer the sunset, a finer model couldn't be found.