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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


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 - US
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.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 22/6/2014 Clancy Martin
San Francisco Chronicle A 23/5/2014 Porter Shreve
Sunday Times . 21/5/1989 Shena Mackey
The Times . 18/5/1989 Andrew Sinclair
The Times . 12/4/1997 .
TLS . 2/6/1989 Mark Ford

  From the Reviews:
  • "(W)hat I liked best about The Colour of Memory was its depiction of the frustrations of life that become one of the central themes of Dyer’s later work" - Clancy Martin, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Yet for all the idleness it portrays, The Colour of Memory is an excellent, highly entertaining novel. It deserves a place on the undusted shelf of the best of slacker literature." - Porter Shreve, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "The Colour of Memory demonstrates that Geoff Dyer can write. (...) The writing, as the narrative moves towards its dying fall, is sustained and powerful." - Shena Mackey, Sunday Times

  • "Not since Colin MacInnes's City of Spades and Absolute Beginners 30 years ago has a novel stuck a flick-knife so accurately into the young and marginal city." - Andrew Sinclair, The Times

  • "By turns compassionate, funny and vicious, and as plotless and magnetic as the lives it describes." - The Times

  • "Dyer writes crisp Martin Amis-inflected prose, full of acute perceptions and neat phrases; he works hard to maintain a neutral, dispassionate voice, but also to put spin on his locutions. (...) Less happily, Dyer is prone to lurch into a rich, purple prose full of lyrical impressionism that gets very dull after a while. It's also a shame that he tries to introduce a little post-modern reader-writer intrigue in his epilogue." - Mark Ford, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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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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The Colour of Memory: Reviews: 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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