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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful companion to Shakespeare's Biography,
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This is fascinating book that will be welcomed by any Chatwin fan. The 'letter' are an important companion to the Nicholas Shakespeare biography.
In pre publicity much has been made of the way in which the reader of the letters get a glimpse of the raw Chatwin, the un-edited and un-polished Chatwin (Chatwin was a perfectionist who honed and honed his work until he was happy with the end result. Well, the publicity is true but only up to a point I feel. Such was the character creation of himself you would still have to say that -- even here -- Chatwin's greatest literary creation was himself.
In some ways I learned more about Chatwin from the letters than from the biography. For example, though the biography covers his art career in full I hadn't quite realised just how important the Christies experience was to Chatwin's writing. As an auctioneer Chartwin had to describe historical and beautiful objects in but a few words. Chatwin was well known for the brevity of his writings and I have always been amazed by the way he deals with and describes colour. The letters showed me just how this important skill had developed through his auction work. The letters are also good at filling in details about times in his life that are less well known, including his time as an archeology student in Edinburgh.
The letters start with those from bis schools days and run right through his career until a period quite close to death. Chatwin dies of AIDS of course and received some stick for insisting that he died of some rare Chinese fungus; there were many who'd wished he's embraced the illness more publicly. But it is pleasing to see a number of letters here that are sent with the intention of raising funds for AIDS research. There are others that rage against the less than accurate descriptions of the disease in the media.
But ultimately these are the letters of a great writer.The agonies of the writer are revealed in full here as Chatwin struggles to produce his original work on nomads. And the re-writing and honing of style is well illustrated by the exchanges with friends and colleagues.
Not all of the letters are here of course. Those to and from Salman Rushdie are notable exceptions. But this is a fascinating collection.
This kind of letter writing is a dying art and will it survive past this current batch of travelling writers? I'm not so sure. But I'm glad we have this collection. Elizabeth Chatwin and Nicholas Shakespeare must be congratulated in producing Under the Sun. Ultimately, this collection reminds us of the greatness of his work. I've already started re-reading the back catalogue once more!
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A delightful and humanising selection of letters,
This is a fascinating, revealing and, to my mind, at times profoundly moving book. Chatwin's public reputation for beguiling singularity, social charm, contradictions, worldliness and elusiveness, was cemented by Nicholas Shakespeare's elegant early biography. This selection of his letters, written to an inner circle of friends, lovers and family, from his school days right through to his final period of illness, offers something quite new and compelling: the author's own authentic voice. It is a voice often spontaneous, witty, fun and erudite, as we might expect. But there are also other, less showy human qualities that emerge into view for the first time: his frailities, financial insecurities and deep feeling for places and people, that in many ways go some way to counter balance the egoism and selfishness that writers are condemned to possess. Chatwin becomes a warmer, more likeable figure for it.
I disagree with the literary reviews I read about this book when it first appeared, almost all of which placed exclusive emphasis on Chatwins's human failings, his posturing, self-mythologising and selfishness. And I disagree with their critique of his widow Elizabeth's co-editing of this volume of letters; that she was a woman treated carelessly by her husband who was therefore now having her posthumous revenge by re-calibrating and deflating his legend. Whilst these points are all true to some degree, what also emerges from these wonderful letters, largely glossed over by the reviews, is the capacity for deeply felt friendship, indeed love, and infectious optimism and interest in the world that they contain.
He was genuinely learned, in ways I had not realised, his erudition hard won by deep reading and researching in archives and libraries. Chatwin created a network of friends and used their hospitality and homes to further his writing. Writers are selfish. Yet I sensed that he also needed and valued friendship to keep at bay his own sense of debilitating detachment and rootlessness. His letters often contain great kindnesses and affection, and interest in the lives of those around him, too, particularly at their times of grief. His gift, albeit an egotistical one, was to be inclusive in his vital interests; to include his friends in his own passionate odyssey.
Revealingly, so many footnoted comments by the recipients of his letters bear testimony to Chatwin's authentic capacity for friendship. For many, he had a profound influence on their own lives, and there are some wonderful glimpses of what he meant to others. Robin Lane Fox, who once turned down an opportunity to travel to Patagonia with Chatwin, movingly reflects that Chatwin taught him how important it is to live a life of authenticity, beyond the safety net of conventional careers and security.
This is a really delightful, possibly even great, selection of letters, and it has also been very sensitively edited.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bonus for Chatwin fans,
This review is from: Under The Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin (Paperback)
Elizabeth Chatwin and Nicholas Shakespeare have produced a marvellous collection of the letters of Bruce Chatwin and are to be congratulated. Other reviews have rightly said that `Under the Sun' makes a good companion volume to Nicholas Shakespeare's biography, however if I had to choose only one then I would definitely want this book.
For those of us who love Bruce Chatwin's writing `Under the Sun' is a bonus which reflects the many facets of the man - his erudition, pomposity, curiosity, charm, his ability to make friends with the most fascinating people and to irritate many others. The letters also show his restlessness, his chronic need to be on the move - but also his absolute dependence upon and love of Elizabeth, his wife.
If I have one tiny criticism it is that the book lacks a `who's who' - he corresponded with so many people it was, at times, hard to recall where they all fitted in especially as I shall hopefully be dipping-in to it for many years to come.
An excellent book, very highly recommended.
5.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting Window into Mr Chatwin's Life,
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I really enjoyed reading these letters.
Chatwin's childhood letters are the usual "Dear Mummy and Daddy, I am having a lovely time and have been chosen for the cricket team/ won the Latin prize. Please send tuck. " stuff but the adult letters are truly interesting they show an intense and dynamic man determined on any course he chose to follow. They show the great problems that he seems to have had making enough money to lead the life he wished to and the personal side of his married life. Elizabeth Chatwin's (Chatwin's wife) comments are shown beneath many of the letters and are very revealing and at times funny.
As with Chatwin's published works his letters are well written and full of diverting observations. I found that this was a book better dipped into than read as a solid lump.
Unlike many collections of letters I would recommend this as a satisfying read.
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Under The Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin by Nicholas Shakespeare (Paperback - 1 Sep 2011)