[ilds] Durrell and Chatwin

Bruce Redwine bredwine1968 at earthlink.net
Wed Jul 23 13:38:23 PDT 2014

As David suggested, Durrell and Chatwin make an interesting comparison as travel writers, if not stylistically at least in terms of method and "truthiness."  Chatwin spent much time in Australia.  His Songlines (1986) is about the Australian Outback and Aboriginal culture.  It's non-fictional, fictional, and controversial; some consider it unreliable.  Here are a few quotes from Nicholas Shakespeare's Bruce Chatwin (2001).  I find the similarities striking.

"Generally speaking, Bruce does not substract from the truth so much as add to it.  He tells not a half-truth, but a truth-and-a-half.  His achievement is not to depict Patagonia as it is, but to create a landscape called Patagonia — a new way of looking, a new aspect of the world.  And in the process he re-invented himself" (336).

"Bruce's storytelling process.  The inflations, distortions, confabulations are all there" (349).

"A sense that he had lied about his illness [AIDS] hatched the suspicion that he might have lied in his art" (566).

"Both Bruce and Hemingway were 'mythomanes', said Gellhorn.  'They are not conscious liars.  They invent to increase everything about themselves and their lives and believe it.  They believe everything they say" (330).

Quoting Paul Theroux:  "He [Chatwin] was something of a mythomaniac" (374).  The quotation is probably not a compliment.  Theroux is sometimes nasty about his "friend" (see Granta 44).  Mythomaniac is a polite way to say something is a liar.

"But Bruce wasn't a mythomane.  Why shouldn't he turn something that does happen into something with shape and story?" (567).

Quoting Stuart Piggot:  "'I think he [Chatwin] lived in a fantasy world and was quite genuinely incapable of distinguishing fact from fiction.  It wasn't a pretense'" (221).

Both Chatwin and Durrell seem to have fallen into "desuetude" among readers of English literature.  But, as James likes to say, literary preferences have their ups and downs.


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