A contemporary heir to Patrick Leigh Fermor's genius in travel writing, Bruce Chatwin's literary talent was matched by his personal panache. So brilliant, so handsome, so acclaimed, so willing to buck British convention, yet so tormented by his own prejudices. Unable to accept that he was gay, he married a woman, Elizabeth Chanler, in 1965, when he was twenty-five, and exclusively pursued men throughout their fifteen years of marriage. (She didn't mind, although she did ask for a separation in 1980.)
Chatwin's reflex for making up cover stories appears to have extended into his nonfiction. The local people of his marvelous travel books like In Patagonia and The Songlines disputed the accuracy of some of his writing, claiming he embellished or created characters and conversations described as fact. Many episodes in those essays only make sense if you realize he is sleeping with the men he meets. Although there's nothing outright gay in his much loved first novel On the Black Hill, it concerns two long-time bachelor brothers who sleep in the same bed for decades. Even when he was dying at forty-eight in 1989, he remained so closeted he said he had a rare, fatal blood disease contracted in China from a bat bite, rather than say he had aids. One of his lovers was Jasper Conran; Chatwin died in the South of France in a house owned by Jasper's mother, Shirley Conran, and his ashes were scattered near Leigh Fermor's home in the Peleponnese.