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the Complete Review
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The Colour of Memory

Geoff Dyer

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To purchase The Colour of Memory

Title: The Colour of Memory
Author: Geoff Dyer
Genre: Novel
Written: 1989
Length: 228 pages
Availability: The Colour of Memory - UK
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Our Assessment:

B+ : Finely written tale of young, aimless Brixton lives -- but perhaps a bit too aimless

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Geoff Dyer's first novel is set in Brixton, an area of violence, poverty, and without much future. Everyone is on the dole, everyone knows they are going to get mugged at some point (and burgled frequently). For all that Dyer's South London is a cheery place. The reason is the characters he chooses to populate his novel with, and their generous camaraderie: would-be artists and unambitious twenty-somethings, muddling through, drifting in and out of jobs and love, but somehow satisfied. They are not whiners, and that keeps them sympathetic. They are cynical, and that keeps something of an edge to the novel.
       As in the trance that is his later Paris Trance (see our review) Dyer's world is very much an other world, peripheral and somehow at odds with reality. The surreal contact between the characters and, for example, the state -- in the unemployment office, in court, in hospital -- shows two worlds that are irreconcilable and, though mutually interdependent, also almost completely independent.
       The novel is told in 61 short chapters, numbered backwards, 060 to 000 -- plus a brief preamble, later expanded in an epilogue of sorts. A year passes in South London. Life passes in South London. There are many incidents, but in their succession few stand out. A disciple of John Berger (Dyer's first book was the critical study of Berger, Ways of Telling (see our review)), Dyer's interest are elsewhere.
       One of Dyer's characters says of the book he is writing: "Oh no there's no plot. I hate plots. Plots are what get people killed. Generally the plots are the worst thing about books." One begs to differ -- generally plots are the best thing about modern novels, but Dyer is an author capable of writing engagingly, confidently and well and so he can get away without a true plot. True, he has taken avoiding a plot or purpose close to its mainstream extremes (in, for example, his D.H.Lawrence study, Out of Sheer Rage (see our review)), but he still manages to entertain.
       Dyer's book is a small canvas, a Breughel in which detail is evenly spread across the board, nothing standing much farther out than all the rest. Dyer has painted his picture well. The conversation is often sharp, only occasionally off in tone or beat. One or two of the pub visits go on too long, one or two aimless trips are too aimless, some incidents are reached or glossed over too quickly, but most of the episodes are well-related and often funny.
       The underlying threat of violence in the neighborhood is not always ideally dealt with -- Dyer does not feel comfortable confronting this condition either with humour or gritty reality (though he tries both). In the end he seems to make too much light of it, glossing over the implications -- in part unsatisfactory because we know that his narrator and his characters will escape Brixton, whereas the underclass that is both responsible for the crime and its main victim is destined to remain behind. But that is a small quibble.
       One other point to mention is the small authorial turn the novel takes, a fancy pirouette that seems too almost much artifice for the sake of artifice. The novel is narrated by one of a group of friends. Readers familiar with Paris Trance will have no difficulty in smelling and then recognizing the "author" behind the book. It works quite well in this novel -- though it did not come as much of a surprise to us -- but strikes us (as a similar device did in Paris Trance) as an unnecessary complication, a fancy trick that spoils the previous straightforward simplicity.
       Nevertheless, this is certainly a fine book. Not much happens, but as a picture of a generation and a time it is a very fine book. And, though still working his way into form here, Dyer writes very well.

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Geoff Dyer: Other books by Geoff Dyer under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       British author Geoff Dyer was born in 1958. He attended Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He has written several novels, a study of John Berger, and several books that his publishers describe as "genre-defying".

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