October 16, 2010 Leave a comment
Bruce Chatwin would have been 70 this year, the same as John Lennon, yet his published novels came late in a life, which was also tragically curtailed. From when I first read “On the Black Hill”, the most conventional of his books, and “The Songlines”, his truly innovative travel book primarily about the Australian aboriginals, he’s been one of my favourite writers. A very English writer (and very English gentleman), he seems to step out of the pages of Evelyn Waugh, yet his sensibility is an acute one. His books are all minutely observed and meticulously crafted. Even his essays, collected in two collections, also published by Picador, have the same immediacy of his longer works. With Chatwin you are intensely involved from the first word, as his co-conspirator. You see what he sees. If he sometimes among the poshest of contemporary writers, because of the circles he moved in, his background is actually quite déclassé compared with his friends. Unusual for an English writer, he seems to write unencumbered by social positioning, his obsession with “nomad” cultures perhaps giving him a sensibility that filters into his work. His death, in his forties, robbed British letters of an important counterpoint to the generation that came after him, but was writing around the same time, but like that other writer of a few short books, F. Scott Fitzgerald, the quality of his prose remains paramount. Nicholas Shakespeare’s biography, and now, the collected letters have rounded the picture we have of a key writer of the last thirty years.