For the previous half century, travel writing seemed to consist either of grim, extended journeys through desolate landscapes or jokes about foreigners. And the leading figures—such as Wilfred Thesiger or Robert Byron—in their tweed suits were celebrated for neither their prose nor their charm. But Chatwin was as attractive as a person as he was as a writer. Aged twenty, I thought that even his untruths were immensely erudite. I made eighteen notes on the first page of his novel Utz.

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G Sebald Your own biography of Chatwin paints a compelling portrait of a writer who lived a colourful life. What is it about Bruce Chatwin that interests you, and so many other readers? He was a precursor of the Internet, a connective super highway without boundaries, and with instant access to different cultures. He was a storyteller of bracing prose, at once glass-clear and dense, who offered a brand new way of representing travelling. And he held out in his six books the possibility of something wonderful and unifying, inundating us with information but also with the promise that we will one day get to the root of it.

Or was the Chatwin he projects in his books very different to who he was in reality? But Chatwin himself was a hopelessly impractical chatterbox who could not stop talking and never did the washing-up. Childhood influences were strong, as he suggests in The Songlines. His father was absent at sea during the war, his nervous mother shunted him from aunt to aunt, and after the war he was brought up with his brother Hugh on a small-holding near Birmingham. He did not come from a privileged background, as many suppose, but from a family with mercantile roots in Sheffield and Birmingham, underpinned by solid middle-class values.

In adult life he no doubt felt like an outsider at times. He was bisexual in a socially conservative era, notwithstanding his other eccentricities. Chatwin was a great writer, but the restlessness that drove him is less easy to pin down. Readers sense a tension behind the work. While the prose is clear, vivid and confident, the author seems opaque, unmoored and capable of whirring off in all directions. He grew up bisexual in a conventional middle-class home, and was 27 before homosexuality became legal.

He was married for 23 years, and spent much of his life running away from his wife — and running back to her. Indeed, one criticism is that he takes too many liberties with the truth.

Paradoxically, he did not have a fictional gift. He was furious when The Songlines was nominated for the Thomas Cook Travel Award, and demanded that his publisher withdraw it. But even that was a misnomer. He was a storyteller first. That seems to me to be what they are. For Chatwin, a good story was also in a real sense a true story. Is literary travel writing a genre with its own rules, separate to memoir?

The British Empire, after all, was based on people trying to get away from Britain. Like them, Chatwin was imbued with the confidence that he would be welcome anywhere. But I certainly have a right to it in a retrospective way because I know more about it than anyone else.


The Songlines Summary & Study Guide

He has come to study the Aboriginal Songlines out of a fascination that began in his childhood with Aboriginal culture and an adult fascination with their similarity to other transient people groups, having studied Bedouins, gypsies, and the writings of several thinkers who believe walking the earth is the way men are best suited to experience it. His guide as he travels the Outback in search of anyone who will teach him is Arkady Volchok, an Australian-born man of Russian descent. Arkady has befriended Aboriginals since his youth and committed himself to preserving their sacred places and making sure those protections are reflected in the laws that govern all Australia. Arkady takes Chatwin from one Aboriginal settlement to the next, helping him find people, native or otherwise, who can answer his questions and help him better understand the history and experience of this group of people.


The Songlines

Start your review of The Songlines Write a review Shelves: favourites-adult , chcc-library , politics-culture-social , fiction-adult , indigenous 4. One by one, he had watched the young men go, or go to pieces. Soon there would be no one: either to sing the songs or to give blood for ceremonies. In aboriginal belief, an unsung land is a dead land: since, if the songs are forgotten, the land itself will die. Bruce Chatwin was a highly regarded English writer and traveller with a deep curiosity about nomadic people. He was fascinated by the idea of songlines around the world that tell the story of the 4. He was fascinated by the idea of songlines around the world that tell the story of the land, and he wrote this book as a fiction, but using his own name as the narrator.

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