Download Geoff Dyer Study Guide

Subscribe Now


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Geoff Dyer 1958-

English novelist, nonfiction writer, biographer, and essayist.

The following entry presents an overview of Dyer's career through 2000.

A self-styled novelist and author of diverse nonfiction works on subjects including jazz, World War I, and British writer John Berger, Dyer is known for his unconventional subjective approach and impressionistic, often highly expressive prose. While his novels The Colour of Memory (1989) and Paris Trance (1998) focus on the dissolute, transient lives and friendships of young Britons, Out of Sheer Rage (1998) is a mixture of memoir, travelogue, and criticism that relates Dyer's failed attempt to write a scholarly study of D. H. Lawrence. Dyer has evinced an interest in the process of artistic creation and authorial self-reflexivity that, despite his disdain for the vacuity of contemporary literary theory, lends much of his writing a postmodern quality.

Biographical Information

Born in Cheltenham, England, to working-class parents, Dyer received a scholarship to attend Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he received a B.A. with honors in 1980. But Beautiful (1991), a book that explores Dyer's passion for jazz music, won the Somerset Maugham Prize in 1992 and was short-listed for the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize. Out of Sheer Rage was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award in literary criticism in 1998. Dyer is a regular contributor to various periodicals, including New Statesman and New Society.

Major Works

Dyer's first published book, Ways of Telling (1986), is a critical study of John Berger, the English art critic and Booker prize-winning novelist who served as Dyer's model and mentor. Arguing that Berger is among the most important British intellectuals of the mid-twentieth century, Dyer laments that Berger's work has not received the scholarly appreciation that he believes it deserves. Dyer's homage to Berger, an iconoclastic stylist with Marxist convictions, also reflects Dyer's own affinity for literary experimentation and rejection of traditional narrative conventions. Dyer's first novel, The Colour of Memory, describes the aimless lives of a group of young people in Brixton—a depressed, crime-ridden area of South London. The text consists primarily of plotless scenes in which the close-knit friends, including a painter, an aspiring novelist, and other bohemian twenty-somethings, attend parties, drink beer, and expound on art and literature. The Search (1993), a novel influenced by Italian novelist Italo Calvino, is a mix of genres—a philosophical detective thriller crossed with medieval romance, specifically borrowing elements from the legend of the Holy Grail. The novel is laden with arresting images and makes the suggestion that people can only know one another through their physical reflections. Paris Trance surveys a year in the lives of four people: two young Englishmen, Luke and Alex, and their respective girlfriends, Nicole, a Serb, and Sahra, a North African. Their year of hedonism—including excessive drug use, visits to nightclubs, and sexual adventures—leads to a conventional life for three of them. Alex and Sahra marry and have a child, while Nicole remains in Paris as a single mother. Only the anti-hero Luke, who originally goes to Paris to write a novel, is unable to settle down. But Beautiful consists of a series of vignettes about various jazz musicians, including Chet Baker, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Art Pepper, Bud Powell, Ben Webster, and Lester Young. Dyer argues that the hardships of their respective personal circumstances—poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, and racism—are inseparable from the music they produced. In The Missing of the Somme (1994), Dyer considers the lingering cultural legacy of World War I in the British national consciousness. As Dyer notes, ten percent of all English males under the age of forty-five died on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918. This unprecedented loss continues to be commemorated in...

(The entire section is 967 words.)