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Bruce Chatwin Paperback – 6 Apr 2000


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Product details

  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (6 April 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099289970
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099289975
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 303,433 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Bruce Chatwin was the golden child of the contemporary English novel; by the time he died of an AIDS-related illness aged 49 in January 1989 he had produced the startlingly original masterpieces that made his name. Chatwin came late to being a published writer; In Patagonia, his instant classic of what can loosely be termed "travel literature", came out in 1977. In the preceding years this precocious, intense figure had been an art specialist at Sotheby's, a journalist with The Sunday Times, an archaeologist and a restless, questing traveller. By the time his novel of studying the Aboriginal dreamtime in Australia, The Songlines, was published, he had gained a worldwide audience.

An obsessive art collector, Chatwin also acquired people as he did fabulous objects. He took both male and female lovers while continuing to remain married to his wife Elizabeth, seemingly the most enduring relationship of his life. It is her cooperation and tenacity which enabled this biography to come about, as well as Nicholas Shakespeare's exhaustive research (the book was eight years in the making). It is the international span of Chatwin's experiences that makes the reader appreciate his desire to know all cultures and disciplines. There is some excellent, evocative writing here, particularly in Shakespeare's account of Chatwin's last weeks, his disappointment at not winning the Booker Prize for Utz and the detailed passage describing Chatwin's awful, miserable death surrounded by friends and family. There are a plethora of adjectives used to describe Chatwin such as "elusive", "mercurial", and "charismatic". Yet what Nicholas Shakespeare brings across in this immense, excellent life of Chatwin is the complete aloneness of the man. He was a flamboyant fabulist, an unparalleled conversationalist, yet, as the Australian poet Les Murray is quoted as saying: "He was lonely and he wanted to be. He had those blue, implacable eyes that said: 'I will reject you, I will forget you, because neither you nor any other human being can give me what I want.'"--Catherine Taylor

Review

"Of my contemporaries he had the most erudite and possibly the most brilliant mind" (Salman Rushdie)

"An epic piece of work of immense satisfaction... Awe-inspiring" (The Times)

"A fascinating account of the man behind the myth" (Guardian)

"Comprehensively researched, elegantly written, perfectly balanced between the life, the books and the ideas" (Independent on Sunday)

"Quite simply, one of the most beautifully written, painstakingly researched and cleverly constructed biographies of this decade... Original, intelligent and observant" (Literary Review)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 23 Aug. 2000
Format: Paperback
The best way to annoy Bruce Chatwin would probably have been, on the basis of this biography, to file his books under the Travel section, or the Gay Author section. Which is ironic, since his bisexuality and wanderlust are two key themes in this immaculately researched and skillfully written biography. Nicholas has been granted access not only to most of Bruce's friends, associates and relations, but also his extensive notebooks, at one time thought to be so scandalous that they were to be held in the Bodleian library away from the public until 2010. This book is a journey in its own right though - Shakespeare travels in the footsteps of Chatwin through Africa, Argentina and Australia, but never lets his subject over take him - this is a well paced and balanced book. Chatwin was never a prolific writer - he wrote marginally less than Jane Austen, and never had a strong reputation as an author until his final years. In an ideal world, this book would be read as a companion to Chatwin's own work. However, whether you have read all, or some, of his writing, I can definitely recommend this book.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 9 Jun. 1999
Format: Hardcover
The seven or so years spent researching and writing this book is clearly evident in this thorough, well-written biography. Obviously, the late Bruce Chatwin would make a challenging candidate for any biographer to tackle, but in Nicholas Shakespeare the right choice was made. The admiration Shakespeare has for his subject is paramount, and his enthusiasm is reflected in the lucidly written pages, but without necessarily overdoing it.
But Chatwin was a man who generated almost magical interest in those he came in contact with, and like myself, through reading his work, although he kept himself well out of it. Having read most of the Chatwin ouevre, I found the biography doubled as a reference aid too, as it cleverly described the background work and processes Chatwin was engaged in before he set out to write a particular book.
More importantly, it managed to shed more light on the development of Chatwin's complex character, his unconventional marriage and his secret sexuality. It was also intriguing to read about the struggle and sacrifices he had to make to produce his beguiling art. Shakespeare has managed to unearth everything imaginable: from ideas jotted down by Chatwin himself in his safeguarded moleskin notebooks, to interviewing endless family, friends and acquaintances from all over the world.
The transformation of Chatwin from a Sotheby's high-flyer to a restless writer is the driving force behind the book. It is a joy to read, but the final chapters describing his falling victim to AIDS are ultimately the most fascinating, and are penned with careful dignity. It is still hard to believe that he was only 48 years old, having died only a decade ago.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By L. Owens on 1 Jun. 2007
Format: Paperback
This is a masterful biography, penetrating yet never judgemental, complete but not clinical. The inspiration behind Chatwin's brutally clipped prose are laid bare, from Hemingway on, with the most excruciating detail about all aspects of his life from childhood to the gay nirvana that was late 70s and early 80s New York. For all those who have ever marvelled at his work's effortless evocation of atmosphere, its probably best not to read this as any illusion you may have had about him wil be irretrievably shattered. He was the centre of a cult of beauty and brittle sociality, fuelled by incredible egotism and arrogance, that left great literature on the upside, and a series of ruined lives and broken hearts on the down. Hitler was said to be a gifted watercolurist, after all, though I doubt that many would enthusiastically embrace his work. However, for all that, Chatwin's writing is staggering, and Nicholas Shakespeare's book should be lauded as THE example of what a modern biography ought to be: a great, eloquent, wide-ranging, well-expressed and truly epic tour de literary force. Outstanding.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By margot on 7 Aug. 2000
Format: Paperback
A few years back I indulged myself in a marathon reading of every Ernest Hemingway biography that came to hand. Not all were top-notch, but a few were so good that I will forever after prefer to read a Hemingway bio to anything by Papa himself.
And so with Nicholas Shakespeare's lovely masterpiece of a biography of Bruce Chatwin. Chatwin's own works are scoured for biographical data, but most of Shakespeare's research involved 8 years of painstaking interviews and worldwide travels to Afghanistan, India, Patagonia, New York and elsewhere. Simply put, this is a more enjoyable book than anything Chatwin himself ever wrote, and maybe it's better than anything Chatwin could write.
The parallels to Hemingway can be expanded. Chatwin's life was more varied and exciting than anything he was able to commit to his tight, crystallised prose. He was a much greater man than the sum of his works, and he's a very very lucky dead author indeed to have had someone like Nicholas Shakespeare take the first crack at a full-length treatment of the Chatwin life.
Again like Hemingway, Chatwin was brilliant, charismatic, generous--and often supercilious, nasty and a downright selfish bastard. He was so dedicated to his craft that he appears never to have felt a pang of guilt over his readiness to sponge off friends and his long-suffering wife. Anyone who thinks he wants Chatwin as a role model will give the idea second thoughts before finishing this marvelous book!
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