Bruce Chatwin

Nicholas Shakespeare, Author
Nicholas Shakespeare, Author Nan A. Talese $35 (640p) ISBN 978-0-385-49829-6
Reviewed on: 01/31/2000
Release date: 02/01/2000
Open Ebook - 624 pages - 978-1-4070-7433-7
Paperback - 672 pages - 978-0-385-49830-2
Paperback - 624 pages - 978-0-09-928997-5
Hardcover - 384 pages - 978-1-86046-544-4
Hardcover - 978-0-224-03577-4
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Chatwin's fallen-angel looks had withered from HIV by his death at 47 in 1988, but he had achieved a cult reputation as a writer-adventurer that shows no signs of fading. Shakespeare's warts-and-all biography, thoroughly researched and unsparingly revealing of Chatwin's literary and personal failings, will be manna to cultists but ammunition to critics who see him as an overrated manufacturer of his own myth. Chatwin himself declares that the borderline between fiction and nonfiction ""is to my mind extremely arbitrary, and invented by publishers."" To Shakespeare the ""camouflage of fiction did allow Bruce to do what he liked."" A friend sees an unresolved tension in the bisexual Chatwin and his work; below the ""smooth attractive surface, he was split, rather like his books, between fact and imagination."" His small, genre-defying oeuvre, highlighted by In Patagonia and The Songlines, both travel narratives enhanced by artifice, and Utz, which Chatwin considered a ""Middle European fairy-story"" though it was largely factual, is as compelling as his ambiguous personality. Yet he is exposed by Shakespeare, an award-winning novelist, as an exploiter of people, especially his masochistically loyal wife, and as a writer who relished being in control but was obsessed self-destructively by his homosexuality. A charismatic parasite, he borrowed homes in which to write, borrowed lovers, borrowed ideas, borrowed other investigators' research. A critic he knew called him ""a great intellectual thief."" ""I have seldom met a human being,"" an acquaintance wrote, ""who exudes so much sex appeal with so comparatively little niceness. When the gilt has worn off his jeunesse how much substance will be left underneath?"" Always fascinated by nomads of every description, Chatwin was a sophisticated nomad, restless and dissatisfied, even with his fame, and ever pulling up stakes to hide from himself. The biography, a graphic page-turner, leaves the reader wondering whether Chatwin, here simultaneously charming and unpleasant, will survive Shakespeare's relentless yet often empathic dissection. Illus. not seen by PW. Author tour. (Feb.)
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