Author: Bruce Chatwin
Title: The Songlines
Length: probably a couple of months
Type: some walking, but mostly by car
A bit on the whacky side
[Note: I have been reading a German translation of this work.]
This is a rather interesting one: British writer BC roams through the Australian outbacks in order to find out about Aboriginal songs and their use as cultural “maps” for the nomadic people. He drifts all over the place, befriends the locals and conducts interviews here and there, talks to immigrants, activists, cops, truck drivers, and Indigenous Australians.
so far so good
This goes on over 223 well-paced pages in my German paperback edition, a refined and very smooth read.
If this was only the complete story!
During the remaining 170 pages, the travelogue gets put on hold, while BC takes his time to elaborate a certain pet theory: the nomadic nature of man. “Whatever happened to the storyline?” I hear myself mumbling, while I’m shuffling through page after page filled with hints and evidence that BC gathered up to support his point: All men must walk.
the obnoxious part of Bruce Chatwin
Well, “solvitur ambulando” is definitely a nice saying and I am happy to find it here, unearthed from the depths of one of BC’s Moleskins, but that doesn’t help me now, because I’m being lectured to an extent that I even feel reminded of that obnoxious collection of aphorisms in J.W.Goethe’s “Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre” (Wilhelm Meister’s Journeyman Years, 1821). And I don’t like it. I want the original story to go on.
The thing is: BC is obviously a man who can write like a riot. His style is short and precise, there is a keen sense of observation, and he paints the picture of a life in the Australian outback that is so colorful I can only describe it as absorbing. If only it weren’t for the last third of the book!
A beautifully crafted and interesting read that ends up… whacky. It would have been an eight for me, but this way it can only be a 6 out of 10.