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What Am I Doing Here (Picador) by Bruce…

What Am I Doing Here (Picador) (original 1988; edition 1990)

by Bruce Chatwin (Author)

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1,1041611,095 (3.78)18
Title:What Am I Doing Here (Picador)
Authors:Bruce Chatwin (Author)
Info:Macmillan Publishers Ltd, London (1990), Paperback, 367 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:essays, travel, characters

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What Am I Doing Here? by Bruce Chatwin (1988)

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Bruce Chatwin was perhaps the biggest star of the British travel-writing boom of the eighties, but also the first to burn out, a victim of that other great viral phenomenon of the period, AIDS. Before becoming a serious traveller, he had already established himself as a formidable judge of fine art, with a glowing career ahead of him at Sotheby's. But then he went off to South America for six months, and wrote In Patagonia, the first of a short but insanely beautiful collection of books that all hover somewhere on the borders of fiction and travel-writing.
This was Chatwin's last book, a collection of his short stories, essays and journalism from the seventies and eighties which he prepared for publication during his final illness (which he refers to in several pieces, but still steadfastly refuses to call by its proper name, even though everyone who read the book must have known what it was...).

Despite the circumstances, almost everything in the book still seems to reflect Chatwin's usual concern for perfection of style, and it's a pleasure to read throughout. The subject-matter, as you might expect, ranges widely over his big interests in life - in particular the fine art business, travel, architecture, nomads, and literature. He says in an introductory note that all but one of the pieces were "my ideas", but there does seem to be quite a spectrum between very personal reflections and obvious newspaper commissions (like the Observer article describing a cruise on the Volga with a boatload of German Stalingrad veterans and widows - a kind of trip it's rather difficult to imagine Chatwin going on on his own initiative).
There are some very interesting peripheral notes related to his other books, such as his account of working with Werner Herzog on the film version of The viceroy of Ouidah, and some tantalising hints of other things that might have been developed into books if he had had more time.
A book that everyone who enjoys Chatwin's prose would want to have on their shelves to complete the set, but perhaps not the first one you would reach for if you don't know his work yet. ( )
3 vote thorold | Aug 28, 2017 |
Bruce is seen at his best here in pieces that have been polished before publication. At his best he was a great writer. ( )
1 vote Faradaydon | Sep 29, 2016 |
A dazzling collection of essays, not just travel writing but art and art history as well. The people Chatwin met, the places; it does feel like a compendium for completists, but the quality is universally so high that you can't grudge the publishers their choice. ( )
1 vote soylentgreen23 | Jul 3, 2016 |
Chatwin always tells a good story and he tells it well. Even when one questions or disagrees with his perceptual bias, he is clear and vibrant. And that's all we can ask when someone else is doing the seeing [in a travel book] for us. ( )
1 vote dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
A disappointing collection of bits snd pieces of Bruce Chatwin's writing. Some of the recollections of meetings with eccentric personalities are amusing. Most of the journalistic pieces are boring. But what comes through is the privileged, posh, prejudiced nature of the person. A younger version of Laurens van der Post. Talking in generalities about peoples, nations with no idea how most people live. Sadly it has put me off reading any more of his work. ( )
  Steve38 | Sep 24, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
In ''What Am I Doing Here,'' Chatwin comes right out and tells us that five of the pieces are short stories, labeling each of them ''A Story'' lest there be any confusion. They're the weakest part of this collection, and they read more like outtakes from his other books than self-contained works of fiction. But many of the essays in ''What Am I Doing Here'' are examples of Chatwin at his best - part observer, part interviewer, part scholar. What brings them alive is his special talent for noticing life's strange, riveting details. He was a born Autolycus, a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles. What comes through in his last book is a life miscellaneous and on the move, traveled on foot, but never pedestrian.
added by John_Vaughan | editNY Times, Diane Ackerman (Jul 12, 1989)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140115773, Paperback)

This is the last of Bruce Chatwin's works to be published while he was still alive (he penned the introduction in 1988, a few months before he died). It's a collection of Chatwin gems--profiles, essays, and travel stories that span the world, from trekking in Nepal and sailing down the Volga to working on a film with Werner Herzog in Ghana and traveling with Indira Gandhi in India. Chatwin excels, as usual, in the finely honed tale.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:52 -0400)

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