Queer stuff, not bad

OUT OF SHEER RAGE: In the Shadow of D H Lawrence by Geoff Dyer, Little, Brown pounds 16.99
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
One of those fashionable hybrids, this book is part travel book, part memoir, part confessional, part meditation on writer's block; what it emphatically isn't is a study of D H Lawrence. During its course, the author takes several running jumps at the subject, each time baulking and returning from a new angle, only to fall back winded once again.

Dyer's whinges are beautifully constructed upon repetition and reversal. In the opening pages he describes how his chronic uncertainty about where to live leads to indefinite postponement of his Lawrence book. He is in Paris: "The longer I stayed the more powerful it became, this feeling I was just passing through. I had thought about subscribing to Canal Plus as a way of making myself feel more settled but what was the point in subscribing to Canal Plus when, in all probability, I would be moving on in a few months?"

The agony of Paris is relieved by the prospect of Rome, where Laura ("my almost-wife") resides. But in Rome it's much too hot to write. Thankfully, a passing rich friend, Herve "Money" Landry, invites the duo to an isolated Greek island, the perfect place to work. Interminable mental wrangling occurs over whether to haul along the bulky volume of Lawrence's Complete Poems. If he takes the book, he won't need it. If he doesn't, he will. He puts it in his luggage. He takes it out. At the last minute he runs upstairs again and gets it. But on Alonissos he reads Rilke instead. When he can be bothered.

As if aware that these are problems most of us would love to have - gosh, is it to be the flat in Rome or the apartment in Paris? Aren't Greek islands boring? - Dyer points out that he has gammy knees, eczema and ridiculously narrow shoulders. He sits on a nudist beach in Mexico "suddenly on the brink of tears" and says to Laura: "I am so wound up in myself I am not even a man." "Yes you are, hombre," returns the barely credible Laura. Cheered by this, he spits on his penis and starts masturbating (what is it with these male writers? Always getting their plonkers out!).

At this point I started to hope fervently that Laura was a fantasy girlfriend. No flesh and blood woman deserves this ungallant treatment from her almost- husband. He quotes from her not-very-good diary entries, mockingly contrasts her motto ("Together forever") with his ("Together whenever"), and describes their sex session after being injured in a moped accident: "Laura moved over my face, saying 'Ah, my ribs!' when she came." Thanks for sharing, Geoff.

There are some insights into Lawrence, when Dyer can get his own awful personality out of the way for long enough; and when he stops moaning, he can be a witty and observant travel writer. This is an entertaining book, chiefly for the way Dyer keeps handing out soft fruit for the reader to pelt him with. The title, by the way, comes from Lawrence himself: "Out of sheer rage I've begun my book on Thomas Hardy ... queer stuff - but not bad." There is not much rage here, apart from the author's flashes of murderous irritation in cake shops. In motivation as in everything else, Dyer is unafraid to show himself immeasurably the lesser man.