24 December 2007

Bruce Chatwin, Utz, 1988

Chatwin was often brought to book for his over-embellishment of the lives of living people so it’s likely that the slippery character of the late Czechoslovakian porcelain collector Kaspar Utz has been subjected to the same fate, though this time it seems Chatwin is a little more careful to conceal his characters’ real identities. Utz was a man of a minor European nobility, figuratively imprisoned by his collection of rare Messein porcelain, and Chatwin ultimately portrays him as a rather sad figure. It’s hard to tell the degree of artistic licence he took with his last novel, but certainly there are passages in which he lets his imagination take flight about Utz’s annual visits to Vichy in France. It’s also a cautionary tale for collectors of whatever stripe and there’s no denying it reads exceptionally well too, whatever amount of fictionalising Chatwin may have indulged in. Recommended.   PY

  Utz was shortlisted for the 1988 Booker Prize.

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