The Cheltenham Literature Festival – 5th to 14th October 2018
Authors on location – Bruce Chatwin
10th January 2018
#AuthorsOnLocation – BRUCE CHATWIN
For some writers location is as integral to their story-telling as plot or character. TripFiction takes a look at some of these authors, for whom a sense of place has helped to define their literary output. For the sixth in the series we have chosen Bruce Chatwin.
In a remarkable life, Chatwin’s writing was influenced by both years of cataloguing works of art for Sotheby’s and an interest in – almost an obsession with – nomads.
Chatwin is best known for his travel writing, but he also wrote novels. He died aged just 48, and is credited with reviving the art of travel writing, influencing the likes of William Dalrymple and enabling a close friendship with Patrick Leigh Fermor, both also covered in our #AuthorsOnLocation series.
In Patagonia – travelogue set in Patagonia
Chatwin’s first, and probably best known, work of travel literature. Published in 1977, after 6 months immersing himself in this remote South American landscape, he described it as ‘the narrative of an actual journey and a symbolic one … It is supposed to fall into the category or be a spoof of Wonder Voyage: the narrator goes to a far country in search of a strange animal: on his way he lands in strange situations, people or other books tell him strange stories which add up to form a message.’
On the Black Hill – novel set in Wales
On the Black Hill is an elegantly written tale – through the technique of flashback – of identical twin brothers who grow up on a farm in rural Wales and never leave home. They till the rough soil and sleep in the same bed, touched only occasionally by the advances of the 20th century.
On the Black Hill is a novel which portrays themes such as unrequited love, sexual repression and confusion, social, religious and cultural repression, hatred and the historic social values of that era,
In depicting the lives of Benjamin and Lewis and their interactions with their small local community, Chatwin comments movingly on these larger questions of human experience.
The Songlines – travelogue set in Australia. The songlines are the invisible pathways that criss-cross Australia, ancient tracks connecting communities and following ancient boundaries. Along these lines Aboriginals passed the songs which revealed the creation of the land and the secrets of its past.
In this magical account, blurring fiction and non-fiction, Chatwin recalls his travels across the length and breadth of Australia, seeking to find the truth about the songs and unravel the mysteries of their stories.
Utz – novel set in Czechoslovakia
Chatwin’s bestselling novel traces the fortunes of the enigmatic and unconventional hero, Kaspar Utz.
Despite the restrictions of Cold War Czechoslovakia, Utz asserts his individuality through his devotion to his precious collection of Meissen porcelain. Although Utz is permitted to leave the country each year, and considers defecting each time, he is not allowed to take his porcelain with him and so he always returns to his Czech home, a prisoner both of the Communist state and of his collection.
Andrew for the TripFiction Team
Bruce Chatwin sadly died in 1989 but you can follow news around his legacy on Twitter
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