I have an odd relationship with the works of Geoff Dyer. There are books of his that I rate as some of the best I’ve ever read, yet there are others that I’ve found tedious, a little cliched and rather dismissible. The key difference, I’ve found, comes between his fiction and his non-fiction.
Out Of Sheer Rage, his book about DH Lawrence (semi-styled as a book about writing a book about DH Lawrence), is a triumph, his non-fiction book about jazz, But Beautiful, is excellent. By all accounts, his books about Photography, John Berger and the film Stalker are equally impressive, winning him a huge amount of awards between them. He is an engaging writer of powerful contemporary non-fiction. Yet the novels of his I have read, Paris Trance and Jeff In Venice, Death In Varanasi, gave me with far less pleasure. Although Dyer is always engaging, his fiction seems a little bit… a little bit NOT QUITE as good as it could be. His novels are fun, hedonistic, evocative, but little more than that. Parties and drugs and lots of anal-focused sex*. Fine, fun, a good light read, but compared to his non-fiction, underwhelming.
Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It falls somewhere between the two camps. It is a travel book, memoir, I suppose, describing in a non-chronological order a series of international experiences: Indonesia, Thailand, Rome, New Orleans, Libya, Burning Man festival, a few other places. Each chapter deals with a different location, with themes, ideas, focuses, cropping up repeatedly. His girlfriends and the drugs he takes change, and he becomes both more and less satisfied as his thirties turn into his forties and very little (bar all the literary awards) alters… There are sections in here – his trip to Roman ruins on the Libyan coast, his surprisingly charming evocation of Burning Man** – that are excellent, truly inspired and top notch travel writing. But the Full Moon party in Thailand, the month spent getting stoned with a suicidal Californian in New Orleans interested me much less… So, I suppose, where my opinion regarding Geoff Dyer ultimately lies is thus: When he writes about something I am interested in, be they places, people, books, I adore his prose… but when he writes about something I don’t really care about (e.g. raving in Paris in the ’90s, marijuana, having a “spiritual epiphany” on the banks of the Ganges) I can see, despite being unable to feel, his appeal.
Geoff Dyer is a great writer, and I consider myself lucky that two of his many books are about subjects (jazz and Lawrence) that I have a genuine interest in. But, I think, it is his detail that puts me off… as a reader I struggle to drop my prejudices, feign caring, and I suppose that is my loss, really. When Dyer’s prose is about something I like, I love it. But even when it’s not, I’d still recommend it to others.
If you haven’t, give him a go. He’s probably written at least one book you’ll fall in love with.
* There is a passage in Jeff In Venice where he writes about rimming a woman being the pinnacle of existence for a modern heterosexual man. For example.
** I hate hippies, and after reading that chapter even I want to go.
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