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the Complete Review
the complete review - film



Geoff Dyer

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To purchase Zona

Title: Zona
Author: Geoff Dyer
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2012
Length: 217 pages
Availability: Zona - US
Zona - UK
Zona - Canada
Zona - India
Die Zone - Deutschland
  • A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room

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Our Assessment:

B+ : entertaining riffs on Tarkovsky's Stalker; typical Dyer-fare

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times A- 27/1/2012 Peter Aspden
The Guardian . 16/2/2012 Sukhdev Sandhu
The Independent . 10/2/2012 Ian Thomson
Independent on Sunday . 5/2/2012 Holly Williams
The LA Times . 26/2/2012 Chris Barton
The New Republic . 20/12/2012 William Deresiewicz
The NY Rev. of Books A 24/5/2012 Giles Harvey
The NY Times Book Rev. . 4/3/2012 J.Hoberman
The Observer . 4/2/2012 Killian Fox
San Francisco Chronicle . 11/3/2012 J.M.Tyree
The Spectator . 18/2/2012 Adam Mars-Jones
The Telegraph . 20/1/2012 Igor Toronyi-Lalic
World Literature Today . 11-12/2012 Michael A. Morrison

  Review Consensus:

  Fairly impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "But, of course, there is deft method in Dyerís fluent playfulness. He uses the film as a springboard to philosophise more generally about life and art. His footnotes, spread over entire pages, brusquely bump us off his central narrative. Each scene in the film is scrupulously examined and then digressed upon. There is nothing so crude as a search for meaning, just a kaleidoscopic array of reference points. Many of these are autobiographical, and most reflect shrewdly on the relationship between watching a movie and living a life. (...) This is a rigorous book, and one that celebrates properly a lifelong devotion to an artistic masterpiece. But it is also entertaining. As such, it is almost revolutionary in form." - Peter Aspden, Financial Times

  • "Some readers may find these riffs and asides more whimsical than enlightening. Some might be wondering too if Dyer's ever-evolving genius for comic writing now leaves him no time or desire to pursue the bruised lyricism that lit up earlier works (.....) What's certainly true is that hardcore cineastes weaned on, say, David Bordwell's cognitive film theory will find Zona a little undercooked. (...) Beyond the book's bravura formalism and in spite of the suspicion that it could be viewed as a highbrow take on live-blogging, it's Dyer's ability at moments like this to make pilgrims of his readers and to lead them on a journey in search of truths about love and about the nature of happiness that make Zona such an exhilarating achievement." - Sukhdev Sandhu, The Guardian

  • "Throughout, the writing is of an aphoristic grace and concision, suffused with humour and a delight to read." - Ian Thomson, The Independent

  • "The book meanders, but its backbone is scene-by-scene analysis; do brush up on the movie first. And although Dyer recognises the grating self-reverence of Tarkovsky, Zona is possibly only for those who already think he's a bit of a genius." - Holly Williams, Independent on Sunday

  • "As someone who has never seen Stalker, it's difficult to say whether this book is best suited for fans of the film, but Dyer approaches the film with such good-natured depth that he allows room for neophytes. (...) For all the witty, self-referential asides that can make the book feel like the smartest Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode ever written, it's Dyer's emotional tie to Writer's journey and the wish fulfillment of that vocation that stay with you the longest after the lights finally come up." - Chris Barton, The Los Angeles Times

  • "The shot-by-shot structure is lazy and keeps us intellectually low to the ground. The long, digressive footnotes, which promise wider perspectives, tend to fizzle. (One of them tells us that formative experiences are ... formative.) Superlatives assume the place of argument. Dyer lets us know incessantly how great the movie is, but he doesnít put in the work to make us feel it. The book is convincing if you are already convinced, informative only if you already know what it says." - William Deresiewicz, The New Republic

  • "What we gradually come to realize is that Dyer is using Tarkovsky's film (...) not as an object for cool critical dissection but as the occasion for thought, as a point of departure for a series of messy digressions on life, art, time, memory, and -- lest we forget -- cinema. That is to say, Zona is a kind of autobiography by other means. Amazingly, the book is not only readable, it is hard to put down." - Giles Harvey, The New York Review of Books

  • "Zona comes armed with source notes and a bibliography, but as if seeking respite from Tarkovskian heaviness, the writer skews light. However droll, his self-regarding asides can be wearisome (.....) Still, Dyerís evocation of Stalker is vivid; his reading is acute and sometimes brilliant." - J.Hoberman, The New York Times Book Review

  • "In many ways, Dyer is the perfect man for the job of unpicking the complex mysteries of Tarkovsky's Zone. He has a rare talent for writing about high-minded concerns with disarming simplicity, and he is unafraid to mix in a bit of low culture (.....) This, in other words, is much more than a useful guide to a classic film. It is also, in small doses, a memoir, a rumination on art and a philosophy of how to live well. Moreover, it is a running commentary on itself, and as such it poses a problem for the reviewer." - Killian Fox, The Observer

  • "An unclassifiable little gem (.....) Fortunately this book is also very funny and very personal (.....) Dyer's M.O. is associative, strolling through the film's territory with little stops along the way for memorable fancies. (...) Nobody's perfect, but in Zona, Dyer wagers everything on Tarkovsky's art as a reflective reservoir to which you can return over the years." - J.M.Tyree, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "In any book that appears under Geoff Dyerís name, whatever the ostensible subject, thereís likely to be a large accompanying portion of the author. Sometimes it seems as if itís the subject thatís being served on the side." - Adam Mars-Jones, The Spectator

  • "Dyer keeps remarkably sane. And he seems to do so by digressing wildly. And this keeps us sane. Because no other writer can flex and stretch in digressive prose more congenially than Dyer. (...) Watch the film before you read the book if you like. But itís not compulsory, which says something of Dyerís style. For he is just as good gibbering on about nothing as he is in full analytical mode." - Igor Toronyi-Lalic, The Telegraph

  • "Zona is not without merit. Dyer writes engagingly. Reading Zona is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. But if youíre interested in Stalker, watch the film instead, discover it for yourself." - Michael A. Morrison, World Literature Today

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:

       In Zona Geoff Dyer writes about Andrei Tarkovsky's classic film, Stalker, a defining work in Dyer's life that he saw at the right impressionable age and that, Stalker-like, haunts him still. The film was based (extremely (and increasingly) loosely) on the Strugatskys' novel, Roadside Picnic, and the bulk of the film has Stalker lead Writer and Professor through the dangerous and unpredictable 'Zone' to reach 'the Room' -- where your innermost wishes can be granted. If you haven't seen it, no worries: Dyer walks you through it, step by step; indeed, that is how the book is presented: Dyer basically recounts the film, offering along the way the usual Dyerian digressions and personal observations (often in the form of footnotes so long they take over the next page(s)). Zona is a guide to (and critique of) Stalker -- the film itself, as well as the making of -- but that's also just a stepping stone for Dyer to go off on his many and various riffs.
       Stalker readily allows itself to be used in this way: it is considered a classic, by a classic filmmaker, but, as Dyer acknowledges, isn't necessarily the most riveting of cinematic experiences (it's long and relatively uneventful); it has an interesting filming-history (a first try didn't go anywhere -- and that film has been lost); you can read a great deal into the film (as Dyer suggests, for example: "The Zone is film") and it has a great and thought-provoking premise (that whole unreal Zone, but also in particular that wish-granting Room ...).
       Dyer does note:

Stalker is a film that can be summarized in about two sentences. So if summary means reducing to a synopsis, then this is the opposite of a summary: it's an amplification and expansion.
       With Stalker as his starting- (and constantly returning ...) point, Dyer also describes a personal voyage -- suggesting why this film has resonated so deeply with him over the years. He acknowledges that this is a film that he came to at the right time in his life: when he had seen enough other films to be ready for this one, but not yet so old and jaded as to no longer be adequately open to the experience. He understands that it is likely out of reach for younger viewers, who have grown up with a different arc of movie-going -- but part of the point is also that it doesn't matter so much what exactly the film in question is; Dyer is also examining the larger concept of the artistic experience and influence (though, conveniently, Stalker lends itself particularly well to this kind of investigation).
       Occasionally, he overreaches, reading just a bit too much into the film (though, of course, that's part of why it works for him):
Once again, I am struck by the film's reach, its ability to bathe events -- both actual and cultural -- in its projected light.
       But for the most part Zona is a fairly agreeable and entertaining tour through and beyond Stalker, a personal document by an interesting writer. Typical Dyer-fare, in other words.
       Dyer writes early on that he wants to: "try to articulate both the film's persistent mystery and my abiding gratitude to it", and he does a good job of that. And it makes for good, quick, quirky fun.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 May 2012

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Zona: Reviews: Geoff Dyer: Other books by Geoff Dyer under review: Other books of interest under 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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© 2012-2014 the complete review

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