bruce-chatwin-montage

19 January 2018 marked the 29th anniversary of the death of British travel writer Bruce Chatwin. To mark the occasion, I read some old articles and reviews relating to his life and work, and came across an interesting profile of the writer by American novelist Hanya Yanagihara. (more…)

What is it like to read a literary work in the place where it is set? To read John Steinbeck‘s The Grapes of Wrath in the Oklahoma panhandle? Or Bruce Chatwin‘s In Patagonia in Patagonia? Robert Macfarlane recently asked followers on Twitter for their personal experiences of what he calls “in situ reading”, and has managed to collect all kinds of examples:

“So the thread grew and spread into a glorious scatter of micro-geographies, a many-sited memory map of located readings. I only joined Twitter in March, after a lifetime in social media purdah. I don’t know why I waited so long. The small region of Twitter-terrain into which I’ve wandered is, so far, a place of community spirit, exchange, kindness, good humour and hope.”

— Robert Macfarlane, The Guardian

“Vintage’s 40th anniversary edition of In Patagonia is an invitation to look again at one of the most vivid but elusive writers of the late 20th century. Chatwin’s first book, it helped to change the idea of what travel writing could be. It appeared at a rich literary moment, when both reportage and the novel were beginning to fly high in new directions. […] In Patagonia was in a category of its own. It was clearly not a novel, but it flirted with fiction. A collage of histories, sketches, myths and memories, with short scenes glinting towards each other, without judgment, conclusion or, often, links. Chatwin said he was trying to make a cubist portrait. It is paradoxical, in content and in style. The syntax is snappy but the vocabulary is orchidaceous. It holds back from intimate revelation – ‘I don’t believe in becoming clean,’ Chatwin announced – but is fuelled by autobiography, lit up by personal obsessions.”

— Susannah Clapp, The Guardian