A few days ago I finished reading Colin Thubron’s Behind the Wall for the second time, and began re-reading Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia. Yesterday, in one of those peculiar coincidences that leave one wondering whether synchronicity amounts to more than mere peculiar coincidence, I came across William Dalrymple’s review of Under the sun: the letters of Bruce Chatwin. Fascinated, and drawn in by Dalrymple’s excellent writing, I read the whole thing and noted several passages that stood out for various reasons — for example, Chatwin’s assertion that, “The function of an artist is to work for a) himself b) to leave something memorable, for the future, to shore up the ruins”, caused me to wonder whether “shore up the ruins” reflected an idea similar to that underlying The Ruins of the Moment.
But one quotation struck me with a particular force. In a note to his wife Elizabeth, Chatwin mentions a consignment containing “...a number of highly precious possessions, including a dried chameleon and the eardrum of a lion”.
1. I did find it curious that Dalrymple quoted several features of the book that had been noted almost two months earlier in a shorter review by Olivia Lang in The New Statesman. (Dalrymple's review was published on 27 October; Lang's had been published on 7 September.) Coincidence? Cryptomnesia? Or were these the only stand-outs in an otherwise humdrum miscellania?
1. This lioness was one of two hunting an impala at night in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia. She walked by our open jeep, so close she seemed almost within arm's reach.
2. My copies of the books.