Bruce Chatwin’s first book — In Patagonia — changed our idea of what travel writing could be.
Its structural is elliptical, almost episodic. Its truth is somewhere between fact and fiction. Its richly descriptive prose is built with short, simple sentences peppered with arcane words and a rich vocabulary. Chatwin described it as a ‘cubist’ portrait.
The author was as multifaceted as his book.
He was a traveler, an art expert whose keen eye for fakes made him a star at Sotheby’s, and to those who knew him, a perpetual house guest and mesmerizing conversationalist.
He went on to write three novels — the last of which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize — and another ‘hybrid’ travel book.
And twelve years after the publication of In Patagonia, he was dead at the age of 48.
Joining me to discuss this remarkable writer is Chatwin’s friend Susannah Clapp, who edited three of his books.
Susannah is the author of With Chatwin: Portrait of a Writer and A Card From Angela Carter. She worked as an editor and reader at Jonathan Cape early in her career, helped set up the London Review of Books, and has been the theatre critic of The Observer since 1997.
We spoke about Chatwin’s unforgettable writing style, how his years as an art expert honed his descriptive abilities, and his lifelong obsession with nomads.
These are the books we mentioned in the podcast:
- With Chatwin: Portrait of a Writer
- In Patagonia
- The Viceroy of Ouidah
- On The Black Hill
- The Songlines