Top positive review
17 people found this helpful
Engaging biography of a remarkable literary figure
on 9 June 1999
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. Nevertheless, the weighty 550 pages make a relatively light, but highly absorbing read when his life is injected into them.
For those of you who need yet to discover the real Bruce Chatwin, this biography could be read as a possible starting point. It will give you a thorough insight into one of the most colourful and intriguing literary figures of the late twentieth century. And believe me, after having read it, it will spark your interest to read Bruce Chatwin's own dazzling output of work, which are all very different in their own right.