bruce chatwin dies: Author of ‘Songlines, was 48

As he approached the end of his life at just 48 years old, acclaimed British novelist Bruce Chatwin attributed his illness to a range of reasons, including a visit to a bat cave, consumption of a rotten thousand-year-old egg in China, and exposure to a rare fungus that had previously only been reported in a few Asian peasants and a stranded killer whale in Arabia. However, it later became known that Chatwin was actually dying from AIDS. Despite this, the mythological aspect of his life and his five novels remained a core aspect of his legacy.

Discover the man behind the myths as Shakespeare delves into the life of Chatwin. Despite the burning of numerous papers during his illness, the biographer was able to gather a wealth of information from Chatwin’s widow, who provided access to family papers and restricted material at Oxford University. In addition, Shakespeare compiled interview tapes, letters, diaries, and recollections from close associates to create an illuminating portrait of Chatwin.

Throughout his lifetime, Chatwin transformed himself into an enthralling tale and a rare gem of a human being, and this continued until the very end. However, he misled his friends by relaying fabricated stories about his illness. For example, he told Loulou de la Falaise that he had consumed a putrid, millennia-old egg, while telling George Ortiz that it came from bat feces. On another occasion, he wrote to his mother-in-law about his unique illness that had never been recorded among Europeans, stating that the fungus that had attacked his bone marrow had only been found among 10 Chinese peasants, some Thais, and a killer whale that had washed up on the shores of Arabia, suggesting that he had picked it up in China.

Nicholas Shakespeare, a novelist and literary journalist, was one of the most fervent believers in the Chatwin myth during his friend’s lifetime. Shakespeare loved to share outlandish tales about Chatwin, such as his fashioning a live python into a bow tie or painting his flat the hue of a Nubian hut after selling all he owned, including a collection of sixth-century BC marble buttocks. In mourning Chatwin’s death, Shakespeare reflected wistfully on the deceased man’s endless curiosity and the possibility that he may have uncovered the secret of life itself. It is perhaps this relentless search for truth that caused the gods to call him home so soon.

In 1999, Shakespeare wrote the authorized biography of Bruce Chatwin, and his honest approach to the project deserves recognition. Despite facing disappointing truths about his hero, Shakespeare conducted extensive research and did not shy away from including mundane details that Chatwin had omitted for dramatic effect. Chatwin was famously opposed to revealing everything about himself, but Shakespeare did it for him after his death. However, this level of transparency may have tarnished Chatwin’s mystique and reputation as a writer, which relied on his enigmatic persona.

Prepare for the release of Under The Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin. Despite some individuals retracting their admiration for Chatwin, respected critic Salman Rushdie provides an alternative perspective on the writer’s approach. Rushdie suggests that Chatwin’s style seemingly stems from his avoidance of the truth about himself, specifically his sexuality. The resulting impressive and unique language, entertainment, and erudition offered by Chatwin functions as a smoke screen hedging against vulnerability and sincerity. Nonetheless, Shakespeare adamantly defends Chatwin’s work, as he contends that Chatwin’s writing remains unfailingly honest, disclosing not a half-truth but a whole truth and a half.

Chatwin’s literary works defy classification, according to Shakespeare. He adds that Chatwin’s writing not only challenges booksellers but also captivates readers with its amalgamation of travel writing, autobiography, philosophy, history, belles lettres, and romantic fiction. The Songlines (1987), a popular novel, recounts a journey through the Australian outback. It was even considered for a prestigious travel-writing award before Chatwin clarified its genre to the judges.

Discover the fascinating paradoxes of Chatwin’s life, as expertly detailed in this first-rate biography. Despite leading a not-so-secret life as a gay man, he shared an unbreakable bond with a wife of almost unearthly patience. He hailed from a middle-class background in Birmingham, yet kept company with the likes of Jackie Onassis and oryx herders. He celebrated the virtues of traveling light like a nomad, yet collected beautiful objects all his life. Defying his hypochondria, he roamed the world with a rucksack filled with pills. A suave charmer, he was still a difficult houseguest, never lifting a finger to help with the dishes. In contrast to other works, such as With Chatwin: Portrait of a Writer (1997), this memoir truly captures Chatwin’s complex nature.