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March 2011

The bolter, or the Chatwin case

by Robert Messenger

Bruce Chatwin in his letters.

Say almost anything of Bruce Chatwin and the opposite is also true.” So determined his official biographer Nicholas Shakespeare, who spent eight years piecing together the endless dualities in the life of this highly secretive writer. Chatwin was both the prodigal son (read, young man in a hurry) and the wandering Jew (another classic English case of the Bolter)—a charming companion yet selfish in the extreme. An aesthete with a great gift for understanding and appreciating art, he survived financially throughout most of his life by the grubbiest of commercial dealings. A talker of epic volubility, he took up the most lonely and silent of occupations. A disciplined writer of hard-earned sentences and rhythm, he was equally capable of a senseless laziness that marred a work. He wrote three great books and followed the first two up with an impossibly poor one—the pendulum then swinging right back. A man who unquestionably loved his wife, ...

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Robert Messenger is the Books Editor of the Wall Street Journal.


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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 29 March 2011, on page 22

Copyright © 2014 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.com

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