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the Complete Review

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Geoff Dyer
at the
complete review:


biographical | bibliography | quotes | pros/cons | our opinion | links


Biographical

Name: Geoff DYER
Nationality: GB
Born: 5 June 1958
Awards: Somerset Maugham Prize, 1992

  • Graduated with honours from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, 1980

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Bibliography

Highlighted titles are under review at the complete review

Please note that this bibliography is not necessarily complete.

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Quotes

What others have to
say about
Geoff Dyer:

  • "There is one thing Geoff and I do have in common. (...) We both have a predilection for admiring. We are both most ourselves when we are carried away by admiration. And this predilection has certain consequences. You keep your eyes sharply open all the time so as not to miss a chance. You never gargle with words, since they too need to be sharp and distinct for, only if they are, can you announce with them the admirable, when you expectedly or unexpectedly come upon it." - John Berger, The Guardian (13/11/1999)

  • "Geoff Dyer is a writer whom I would unhesitatingly recommend to anyone; oddly, though, so disparate is his writing I probably wouldn't recommend the same books to everyone." - Omer Ali, Time Out (8/12/1999)

  • "Geoff Dyer is a counter-tourist. (...) Dyer's writing brims with offbeat insights that had me chuckling hours later, or reading aloud to dinner companions." - Tony Horwitz, The New York Times Book Review (12/1/2003)

  • "Dyer is such a lively prose stylist that one actually slows down to savor his lively turns of phrase." - John Freeman, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (12/1/2003)

  • "If Dyer weren't so prolific, it would be tempting to crown him Slacker Laureate. A restless polymath and an irresistibly funny storyteller, he is adept at fiction, essay, and reportage, but happiest when twisting all three into something entirely his own." - The New Yorker (3/2/2003)

  • "(T)his peripatetic Englishman and sometime San Franciscan is like the brilliant, bored kid in class who can never bring himself to follow the assignment." - David Kipen, San Francisco Chronicle (2/2/2003)

  • "Dyer is the kind of writer who cannot sit still for a moment, changing direction constantly between projects - and sometimes right in the middle of one" - Jerome Boyd Maunsell, Evening Standard (31/3/2003)

  • "Geoff Dyer is a complicated, inconsistent sort of writer. (...) His publishers call him "genre-defying". His many avid fans call him a messiah. Others find him pretentious." - Toby Clements, Daily Telegraph (22/4/2003)

  • "Geoff Dyer is the least categorisable of writers. Give him a genre and he’ll bend it; pigeonhole him and he’ll break out. Clever, funny, an intellectual with a resolutely bloke-ish stance; irreverent and incorrigibly subversive (.....) Dyer is more than a cult writer; he’s a virus, invading your system. You look at things differently, embracing the idiosyncratic, keeping the obvious at bay." - Lee Langley, The Spectator (1/4/2009)

  • "You can spot Dyer’s antecedents and influences -- Nietzsche, Roland Barthes, Thomas Bernhard, Milan Kundera, John Berger, Martin Amis -- but not his literary children, because his work is so restlessly various that it moves somewhere else before it can gather a family. He combines fiction, autobiography, travel writing, cultural criticism, literary theory, and a kind of comic English whining. The result ought to be a mutant mulch but is almost always a louche and canny delight." - James Wood, The New Yorker (20/4/2009)

  • "His books build on literature. He's in the business of making a higher wall to peer over into the neighbor's garden. That said, cynicism is Dyer's downfall, and he has been in a free-fall to the acid pits since his marvelous, wondrous book about grappling with Lawrence, Out of Sheer Rage. The old Dyer dived into his work (just look at But Beautiful, his book about jazz). Something happened. Interviews with Dyer are thickets of irony; essays on travel are sometimes beautiful and discursive but are often pratfalls from a great height -- the effort to write like W.G. Sebald (who was rarely cynical). The books are patched together from autobiographical experiences and freelance articles. Every so often, one gets a glimpse of a real quest, profound malaise, all too quickly smothered by manic cleverness." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times (19/4/2009)

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Pros and Cons
of the author's work:

    Pros:
  • Writes exceptionally well, has a good ear
  • Willing to experiment with form, style and approach
  • Eagerly obsessive
  • Well-read
  • Wide range of interests

    Cons:
  • Aimlessness and lack of focus of characters (and self)
  • Obsessiveness everywhere
  • Occasionally smug
  • Too much ennui

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the complete review's Opinion

     Geoff Dyer, scholarship boy from Cheltenham, Oxford graduate who moved on to Brixton (living on the dole), began his career writing pieces for the likes of City Limits and the New Statesman -- the latter also John Berger's training ground. It is John Berger -- "at first he was an influence, then a mentor, now -- best of all -- a friend" -- that most shaped the young writer. Dyer's first book was a study of Berger's work, the first tentative steps in learning from the master. Berger is different enough from Dyer -- in age, background, interests, focus -- that Dyer could use him as a model without falling into the trap of emulating him too closely. Developing his own style but striving for Berger's breadth of vision, of trying to see what can be done with fiction and with writing in general Dyer has produced some remarkable work.
     Dyer is a writer with a working class background but can't neatly be categorized as such. Working class life has changed in the past decades, and Dyer escaped it to Oxford relatively young. Brixton in the eighties offered material and a different perspective. Raymond Williams and D.H.Lawrence (and the social consciousness of Berger) remain influential, but Dyer moved beyond that, easily and deftly avoiding becoming the traditional (and presumably almost obsolete) type of working class writer.
     He is a literary fellow, but he generally avoids the trap of falling back into that rarefied purely literary world. The varied interests, the background (Cheltenham to Oxford to Brixton and beyond) make for an interesting mix, and Dyer ably takes and uses the best of all his worlds.
     Most importantly, the man can write. He has a deceptively easy style, an excellent ear, a casual but literary manner. His characters tend to be laid back and fairly at ease, meandering shiftlessly and still accomplishing something. In his non-fiction work -- aside from the early Berger-study -- he takes a similar casual approach to his subjects. With great success.
     There is no question that But Beautiful is one of the better jazz-books around (regardless of whether one sees it as fiction, criticism, or anything else). Similarly, the unusual D.H.Lawrence work, Out of Sheer Rage is as useful a study of Lawrence as one can find.
     Occasionally Dyer makes too much of a point of letting life lead where it will. He emphasizes his ambition to loiter through life:
As I grew older I became increasingly to feel that my working life should be virtually synonymous with living my life as I wanted, irrespective of whether I was doing any work.
     He has managed well, and his following his interests has led to some remarkable work. At some point the lack of focus may get tiresome; for now it is most enjoyable.

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Links

Geoff Dyer: Geoff Dyer's Books at the complete review: See also:
  • Index of other Author Pages at the complete review
  • Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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