Monday Book: Action man with the soul of a polymath

Anglo-English Attitudes: essays, reviews, misadventures 1984-99 by Geoff Dyer (Abacus, pounds 12.99)

IMPRISONED IN every bloke, an aesthete is wildly signalling to be let out. Anybody who is familiar with the gritty, duvet-twisting world of Geoff Dyer's fiction may not be surprised to open up this stout volume of journalism and find pieces about boxing swiftly followed by "The Wrong Stuff", in which he is on a Russian runway in a MiG-29 fighter.

Chocks away! You feel that if Dyer is not setting himself up as another Norman Mailer, he surely has his sights set on becoming the John Noakes of his generation.

That said, he duly admits that: "you experience 40 minutes of raw sensation and then what? You can tell people you've done it. Apart from that, it's over. You've got nothing to show for it...

He continues: "When I got down I might have returned to my life of loneliness and boredom, but if I had the money I'd go up again and again until it no longer made me happy and then I'd take off and do something else that made me happy."

Still, Dyer has not got $13,000 a throw to chuck around and, in any case, he remarks elsewhere that "there is nothing on earth more pleasurable, no adventure greater, than sitting indoors, reading".

Not that this is his only solace. In But Beautiful he produced an idiosyncratic and affecting account of jazz, while Out of Sheer Rage was a refreshing change from the likes of such biographers as Jeffrey Meyers.

Dyer signally failed to come up with a life of DH Lawrence, but he harum- scarumed about the world instead, to produce a chronicle that veered from his failure to put up a shelf to an acutely embarrassing description of his ex-girlfriend's nether regions on a Mexican beach.

He is a maverick in this corporate era - a short-haul merchant, but no dilettante. He has an eye for what makes prose work. Norman Sherry's is summed up as "the kind of style that emerges when concerted editorial attention irons badly wrinkled prose into something presentably bland." John Carey gets a sound drubbing for his patronising treatment of the working classes. Nobody else has remarked that even in childhood photographs, Graham Greene 'is all the time waiting to grow old" and that, when he is older, "even when smiling or drinking he has the look that we begin to notice in other photographs from this period (of Orwell, for example). This look, which one sees only rarely before the Second World War, shows the face of a man who is inconsolable. A similar look - a similar condition - found expression in the work of several writers of this period."

It is a stimulating observation, and much of this volume is concerned with photography. One effect is to make the reader hasten to find the edition of William Gedney's photographs (What Was True, Norton, pounds 23) on which Dyer has collaborated.

Gedney read avidly. "Spotting someone reading a book on unfamiliar, offbeat subjects, people sometimes ask, 'why are you interested in that?' To which, for an autodidact like Gedney, there was only one reply: because it is interesting... Although he reproached himself... for not making the best use of his time this inability to bring any of his varied projects to completion was not the result of laziness but, paradoxically, of immersing himself so thoroughly in his work."

If there is more than something of that about Dyer's handiwork, it is infectious. "Effectively... I had found a way of being paid for leading my life," he writes. And, so saying, there is nothing for it than to polish off this piece, drop everything and forage for some discs by Rabih Abou- Khalil, an exponent of Middle East/ jazz fusion.

As Dyer puts it, "to us the oud is a lute, OK for Camelot atmospherics and not much else: a dead instrument. Arab culture sees the oud more poetically, attributing its special resonance to the singing of the birds who once sat in the branches of the trees from which it was made... if The Sultan's Picnic is one of the best jazz albums of recent times, that is precisely because, in any kind of limiting sense, it is not a jazz album at all."

Pick up this book and you will find something interesting on every page, even if you find yourself being asked to believe that Cormac McCarthy's All The Pretty Horses is "one of the greatest American novels of this or any other time".

Christopher Hawtree

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas