A fun, meandering read, but far short of an organized novel. I’ve read plenty of travel novels and they all do more than simply transcribe a travel journal. It is plainly obvious that this book is nothing more than handwritten pages mailed off to some publisher for editing, typing, and printing. There is no narrative whatsoever, and it is fairly poorly (or, to put a finer point on it, lazily) written. The book’s strength is in the way it captures the mystique of the time and place it explores. Patagonia is a desert wasteland dotted with small stone towns which conjure images of Alaska, Iceland, Greenland, Siberia, and Antarctica. It is vast and lawless like the American Wild West. It teams with history, having been visited by Magellan, Butch Cassidy, Charles Darwin, Shackleton, and a number of surprising late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century characters. The land seems to have a consciousness all of its own, and Bruce Chatwin does that justice.
What a beautiful book. To me, this is the essence of science fiction. It has nothing to do with space ships and aliens and planets and advanced technology. True science fiction is the literary treatment of a simple question: what if? This what-if is, I find it strange to realize, extremely under-used. The idea of a scientist taking a mentally retarded person and imbuing him with a “normal” intelligence in order to “cure” him of the affliction keeping him from living life to the fullest, that’s a beautiful social scientific what-if. I love the movie Phenomenon. And of course, going back in time a bit, there are quite a few references to Frankenstein, Faust, and even the story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden. This book, while staying true to those mythic symbols, modernizes and personalizes the story.