With Chatwin: Portrait of a Writer

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9780140276459: With Chatwin: Portrait of a Writer

The celebrated author of such beloved works as In Patagonia and The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin was a heartfelt nomad whose desire for adventure and enlightenment was made wholly evident by his writings. A great storyteller with a superbly original eye, Chatwin had achieved international literary stardom before his death from AIDS in 1989, at the age of forty-eight. In With Chatwin, Susannah Clapp also sheds light on some of the controversies surrounding the author's legend, and presents the lavish and difficult contradictions of his life. As his first editor and one of his literary executors, Clapp was uncommonly close to both Chatwin's life and work. Here, she calls upon Martin Amis, Edmund White, Salman Rushdie, and Chatwin's wife, among others, to re-create the elusive realm in which he lived. The Chatwin that emerges in this portraiture is one whose imagination and passion will be cherished by generations of readers.

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Review:

With Chatwin is a charming exploration of the life of beloved writer Bruce Chatwin. Chatwin--both high-brow and low-, both collector and nomad--was a man of contradictions. His writing "hovered teasingly between fact and fiction," and he was fascinated by paradoxical subjects: a private art collection in a Communist country; a publicity-loving woman who lives alone in the desert. For Chatwin, being on the road was an obsession. He "was an inventive and adventurous traveller," an itinerant who got writer's block at home and who believed that people are happiest when on the move. "Travel does not merely broaden the mind," he once said. "It makes the mind."

From the Inside Flap:

In this vivid and fascinating portrait of Bruce Chatwin, Susannah Clapp has brilliantly captured the intense energy and chameleon-like complexity of this supremely original and contradictory figure. A bi-sexual of arresting beauty, Chatwin loved to perform for an audience, to dazzle and seduce with talk, tales and outlandish facts. As Craig Raine has written, "He always knew more than you.  He was a fine-art expert who could spot a fake as well as a great original, and his eye earned him the reputation of an aesthete." But Chatwin--obsessed with the theme of nomadism--was always pleased to rough it, travelling to the most far-flung and exotic landscapes, whether it was Tibet, Mali, Gabon, Sudan, China or South America. He has been compared to T. E. Lawrence, Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Rimbaud.

Susannah Clapp was Chatwin's first editor, and she describes in detail her work with him on In Patagonia, a book that changed the idea of what travel writing could be. Her poised, impressionistic account skillfully describes his life from a series of oblique angles. We move from his childhood through the years at Sotheby's in London--years rich in the machinations of the art market--to his studying archaeology at the University of Edinburgh and the beginnings of his writing at the London Sunday Times Magazine, to his travels and the six strikingly different books that he wrote before he died of AIDS in 1989 at the age of forty-eight. She gives us unique insight into how Chatwin thought and wrote and where he did it, whether in forts or towers, in Wales or Rajasthan, always with a Mont Blanc pen on American yellow legal pads, taking the material from his eighty-five moleskin notebooks (now in the Bodleian Library at Oxford), bought in a shop on the Left Bank in Paris. Clapp subtly brings to life the writer behind the work.

This is a highly distilled and absorbing look at one of the most enthralling writers of our time.

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