Bruce Chatwin

Your home for news on Bruce Chatwin and literary travel.

Why not at Ryman's?

This was the question asked by one of Chatwin’s contemporaries when they read of his habit of buying his moleskine notebooks from a Parisian papeterie. Chatwin, of course, couldn’t have bought them at Ryman’s at the time – his penchant for the moleskine predated their current ubiquity – but, as the Wall Street Journal helpfully notes, times have changed.

Book of the Year

Under the Sun is ‘Book of the Year’ for both William Dalrymple and Justin Cartwright.

Under the Sun Pt. 5

William Dalrymple writes a typically thoughtful review for the TLS:

“The one thing you might have thought that none of us really needed was yet another Chatwin book: least of all 550 pages of his letters. Yet the letters are wonderful, and while they do give much ammunition to those who want to dismiss Chatwin as a social-climbing show-off, they contain many intriguing insights into his life and writing. Moreover, they are the closest we are ever going to get to a Chatwin autobiography.”

A more equivocal appraisal from Nicolas Rothwell in The Australian.

And Nicholas Murray’s always-worth-reading view at his blog.

Interview with Elizabeth Chatwin

An interesting chat with Elizabeth Chatwin which I only recently discovered online, and which is well worth a view.


Premio Chatwin

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Some of you may know that the Europeans put Chatwin’s fellow countrymen to shame when it comes to demonstrating their appreciation of Bruce’s work. The Italians, in particular, consider Chatwin something of a god, and have, for a number of years, organised a festival and prize in his honour. It is called the Premio Chatwin and it is happening this year between the 18th and 20th of November in Genova.
An article from Blue Magazine, kindly supplied by the translator Sheila Oppezzi, explains more:

Premio Chatwin


Spoken too soon

Inevitably, there is more.
A Guardian review simply isn’t enough; the Observer want to have their say too.
I’m also going to point interested readers in the direction of Hugh Thomson’s website, where you’ll find not only a blog post on the Letters from the man who reviewed them for the Independent, but also a whole host of other pieces of interest.

Under the Sun Pt. 4

In the interests of completion, I’m providing this link to Caroline Moore’s rather snipey review in the Telegraph.

And that, I imagine, will be that until the US version is published early next year.

Under the Sun Press Pt. 3

Some more reviews:

The Independent

Blake Morrison asks ‘Does anyone read Bruce Chatwin anymore?’ in The Guardian

The New Statesman

A blog review by Adrian Slatcher.

And finally Literary Review.

Your View on Under the Sun

It’s only been a few days, but we’re keen to hear how readers are responding to Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin. Please feel free to submit comments below, or, if you’re feeling effusive, you can use the contact form to send on longer responses.

Under the Sun Press - Theroux Special Edition

The initial raft of reviews have appeared, and seem mostly positive, if likely to take Chatwin to task for his liberal attitude to the truth. Surprisingly, however, the fairest assessment comes from Paul Theroux, who has, on occasion, been stingingly critical of Chatwin’s work and personality. At the end of a long review for the Telegraph, however, Theroux re-appraises his earlier assessment:

‘While he was alive, I teased him and questioned his unreliable accounts of travel. His death was a shock and when he was more or less beatified by the critics, I rolled my eyes. But with each passing year I am more convinced that he was the real thing, an original in all his work, and Rimbaudesque in acting on his belief that life is elsewhere.’

You can read the whole piece here.


Under the Sun Press Pt. 2

The following have crossed the wire in the last few days:

A sympathetic and interesting interview with Elizabeth Chatwin in today’s Telegraph.

A typically insightful review in the Spectator by Philip Hensher.

And finally, a gossipy column from the Evening Standard, which manages to avoid any mention of Bruce’s writing.

More as I have it.

Under the Sun Press Pt. 1

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The first drips of what will surely become a flood of publicity for Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin are beginning to fall.

Nicholas Shakespeare writes a typically eloquent piece recounting his journey to Athos in search of the rusted metal cross which inspired Chatwin’s conversion to the Orthodox faith:

‘One afternoon after his usual maté (mistaken by the cook for hashish), Chatwin walked to the monastery of Stavronikita, once painted by Edward Lear. He puffed towards it with his heavy rucksack. “The most beautiful sight of all was an iron cross on a rock by the sea,” he wrote. From where he stood – just below the monastery – the black cross appeared to be striving up against the white foam.
Then these words: “There must be a god.”’

Another more perfunctory - though positive - review of the book from the Irish Times can be find here.

I’ll be posting articles here as they come through, but please feel free to forward any you think I might have missed using the contact form.

Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin is published by Jonathan Cape, and will be released in the UK on September 1st 2010.


BBC Four

Between 9pm and 11pm tonight, British viewers will be able to enjoy - for the first time in many years - the documentary In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin. Made by Chatwin’s biographer, Nicholas Shakespeare, it features interviews with friends and family of the author, as well as the models for some of Chatwin’s characters.


Journey to Chora

The photographer Peter Tomlinson has been kind enough to compose a photo essay for Titled Anatomy of Restlessness: Journey to Chora, the essay charts a journey made to Chatwin’s final resting place.

“In November 2008, I travelled to the Mani in Greece to visit the tiny ruined chapel of St. Nicholas in Chora, “a tenth century Byzantine church on a headland two miles up a mountain,” as described by Patrick Leigh Fermor in Nicholas Shakespeare’s biography of Bruce Chatwin. More specifically, I was making my way to an olive tree very close to the church under which Elizabeth Chatwin had elected to bury the ashes of the writer, her late husband. He came to know the chapel when he stayed in a small apartment at the Hotel Theano in nearby Kardamyli for seven months writing the first draft of his book The Songlines. The ancient church had been one of his favourite places.”

View the whole essay here.

The Morality of Things

‘Bruce Chatwin — author of Anatomy of Restleness, In Patagonia, The Songlines — was an international art appraiser who became disillusioned with how the Western World overvalued objects. He gave up a brilliant career devoted to art objects spending the rest of his brief but rich life travelling around the globe. He viewed art auctions as having the quality of an arcane ceremony of mystic love. An altar and a pulpit, the missals of service, the priest, his acolytes, the sacrament proffered, the complex relationship between the priest-lover and the suitors, the esoteric numerology — all were to him elements of contemporary auctions: a stage, the auctioneer, the costumers, the sacred object of art, the number/ price.

Here lies the power of objects providing intimations of immortality disguising loss under a veneer of eternal value. Of course, there is something ironic in the fact that most objects will survive its owner, from gold rings, to a pair boots, or even a 2-cent plastic non-biodegradable supermarket bag. Chatwin also wrote: “I have often noticed that in the really great collections the best objects congregate like a host of guardians angels around the bed, and the bed itself is pitifully narrow. The true collector houses a corps of inanimate lovers...”’

Hat Tip: Buenos Aires Herald

Dan Franklin

Interesting interview with Dan Franklin, who continues to run Jonathan Cape. Franklin inherited what he calls ‘“the best list of authors in Britain" when he joined Cape in 1993: Joseph Heller, Gabriel García Márquez, Doris Lessing, Bruce Chatwin and Tom Wolfe.’ Particularly entertaining is his account of the death of the boozy lunch:

"We now go to Pizza Express over the road. The publisher's lunch was really dying out anyway. Tony Whittome from Hutchinson retired recently; he'd been there 40 years and he did the lunches with Kingsley Amis. Two malt whiskies when you sat down, two bottles of claret and then calvados, but people don't really do it any more."

More at The Guardian.


Our panel at the 2009 Oxford Literary Festival was recorded, and has been released as what the Bodleian library refer to as a Bodcast. The full hour can be found here.

The Kapuściński Case

“A useful recent parallel might be Bruce Chatwin, one of Britain’s leading authors of the travel genre who perished at the hands of what was deemed an unusual Chinese disease transacted through a bat bite (in truth, AIDS). Chatwin’s Song Lines and In Patagonia are descriptive and inventive, ‘embroidered’ and layered. Fellow travel writer Paul Theroux, who felt that the eye’s impressions had to be recorded without lying, had this to say about his late colleague in writing: ‘How had he traveled from here to there? How had he met this or that person? Life was never so neat as Bruce made out.’ Chatwin’s preference, in his own words, was not to ‘believe in coming clean.’”

The full piece here.

For those of you unfamiiar with the story, illumination can be found here.

At the Bright Hem of God

Nicholas Murray has written an excellent review piece for the Independent on Peter Conradi’s new book on Radnorshire, At the Bright Hem of God: Radnorshire Pastoral. He’s reproduced the piece in full on his blog, which contains myriad other delights, so do head over and check it out.