Rory Stewart, who turned his solo walk across Afghanistan into the recent travel masterpiece The Places In Between [Kindle], has written the introduction to complicated closet case Bruce Chatwin's classic book blending fiction and nonfiction covering his (few) treks in the Outback and his (many) thoughts on Aboriginal culture, The Songlines. Much of the essay can be found at the NYRB blog:
"Today, however, Chatwin’s fictions seem more transparent. We may not be too surprised to discover the journeys with nomads for which he “quit his job,” and which John Lanchester admired, were brief interludes in a period more accurately described as Chatwin getting married and becoming an undergraduate at Edinburgh University. And the passages, suffused with symbolic and literary resonances, that once seemed most impressive, no longer seem the most satisfying. His personality, his learning, his myths, and even his prose, are less hypnotizing. And yet he remains a great writer, of deep and enduring importance.
"The magic of The Songlines lies for me today in the central section, which records what Chatwin observed on February 8, 9, and 10 in 1982 with Toly Sawenko in Ti-Tree, Stirling, and Osborne Bore. The account is precise, understated, beautifully written, and, in an important sense, truthful. Someone as mythically inclined as Chatwin must have been tempted to portray Aborigines either as tragic victims or noble savages. But in his first glimpse of an Aboriginal settlement, he immediately shows us that he is better than that—much better than that. This is not an idyllic grove..."
Both Stewart and Chatwin are champions of another gay, pioneering travel memoirist Robert Byron, whose marvelous The Road to Oxiana greatly influenced their own work.
At a formative age I loved Chatwin's novel On the Black Hill. Some literary types may be inclined to read the story of two Welsh brothers who share a bed for forty-two years as a more acceptable stand-in for the kind of domestic male-male relationship Chatwin could not bring himself to create.