The peripatetic genius of Bruce Chatwin comes alive in his letters
Under the Sun:
The Letters of Bruce Chatwin
by Bruce Chatwin
$35.00 List Price
Bruce Chatwin (1940–1989) may have been the last important writer in English to model his prose after Hemingway’s. When he wrote, he chiseled away everything except what he wanted the reader to see. Employing lean, declarative sentences and short paragraphs, Chatwin’s prose relied almost wholly on exact word choice and careful sentence rhythms. There’s no clutter, no mush, no padding, nothing overemphatic. Even the Shakers could learn from Chatwin’s simplicity and clarity. Take, for instance, this brief Buenos Aires vignette from an early chapter of his travel classic In Patagonia: “By day the city quivered in a silvery film of pollution. In the evenings boys and girls walked beside the river. They were hard and sleek and empty-headed, and they walked arm in arm under the trees, laughing cold laughter, separated from the red river by a red granite balustrade.”
For many admirers, it can be hard to distinguish Chatwin the writer from Bruce the golden boy, the heartthrob of six continents. In his twenties, the elfin Chatwin worked at Sotheby’s auction house, where he was known to possess an eye for art of all kinds—ancient pots, Peruvian feather capes, ivory carvings, Impressionist paintings. But as Chatwin wrote to a colleague when he resigned, “Change is the only thing worth living for. Never sit your life out at a desk. Ulcers and heart condition follow.” Disgruntled with the art business, he left to spend a couple of years studying archaeology and anthropology at Edinburgh, then abandoned his studies to write for London’s Sunday Times magazine.