Geoff Dyer is recognised for being a bit uncategorisable, which makes describing his books a little tricky to say the least. Suffice to say that he is one of my favourite writers and that he walks along the tightrope between non-fiction and fiction in his books. This collection, his latest, is a series of vignettes or stories from his travels, notably the ‘land sculptures’ that can be found in the USA, but also Tahiti and locations in the UK. It is wonderful.
Wonderful for the mix of snarky, cutting humour (there’s a great rant about trustafarian rich kids at one point that ends with a valedictory “fuck you, motherfucker”), curiosity about the world, and poignant insights. Few writers can shift between these different perspectives and tones with such effortlessness or so unclunkily. He skewers the world brilliantly and regularly throughout the book: both in the sense of lining up things you wouldn’t expect next to each other, and in finding the exact right point to add pressure or focus.
The one that has particularly stayed with me is the trip to Tahiti which is a magnificent take-down of the corporatisation of beautiful islands, of the gap between myth and reality, and of his own descent mirroring other artists. It is also, at times, laugh-out loud funny. And also, at other times, bleakly insightful: “The devastating scale and frequency of my disappointment (‘ I am down, but not yet defeated,’ Gauguin snivel-boasted) was proof of how much I still expected and wanted from the world, of what high hopes I still had of it. When I am no longer capable of disappointment the romance will be gone: I may as well be dead.”
Later, when visiting philosopher’s houses in Los Angeles, he finds truth in others’ words: ” ‘Those with “something to fall back on” invariably fall back on it,’ writes David Mamet. ‘They intended to all along. That is why they provided themselves with it. But those with no alternative see the world differently.’) “
So if you want learning, if you want to ‘see’ places of the world you haven’t been to, if you want to laugh, if you want to cry, if you want to not know what is real, if you want to read one of Britain’s best writers, you should grab a copy of this. Or, if not this, then Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi or Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered.
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