Out of Sheer Rage

Stephanie Zacharek reviews Geoff Dyer's book "Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling With D.H. Lawrence".

By Stephanie Zacharek
May 5, 1998 11:00PM (UTC)
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As most writers will tell you, writer's block isn't all that interesting when it's happening to you. Basically, it amounts to a lot of hand-wringing, feelings of worthlessness and the sensation of having a large black hole where your brain should be. So it's a supreme mystery why a writer as talented and perceptive as Geoff Dyer -- whose 1996 novel "But Beautiful" is one of the loveliest, most lucid books about jazz ever written -- would choose to fill up a whole book with his own tail-chasing, self-indulgent observations about what it's like to be unable to write.

Dyer's book was originally supposed to be "a sober, academic study of D.H. Lawrence," but within the first few pages he's talked himself out of actually embarking on the project. That's the big novelty of "Out of Sheer Rage": Surprise! It's not about Lawrence but about Dyer's laziness and indecision, allegedly a far richer and more fascinating subject. The poor guy just can't rouse himself to write about Lawrence, and it's little wonder. For one thing, it's tough to begin such a project when one doesn't know where one wants to live (Paris? Rome? London?), and that's a huge problem when one can live anywhere, as Dyer, the devil-may-care writer without a day job, keeps reminding us he can. Then Dyer and his girlfriend, Laura, are invited to spend a holiday in Greece with some friends, and he thinks he might do some reading up on Lawrence while he's there. But he can't get any work done -- all he can do is complain about the local snakes and the jellyfish, and about how he and Laura have nothing to do but scoot around the island on a moped (which they ultimately wreck). When Dyer decides to buy a flat in Oxford, he explains, with all the precision of a village idiot, why he cannot possibly write about Lawrence in Oxford: "If there is one person you cannot write a book about here, in Oxford, it is Lawrence. So I have made doubly sure that there is no chance of my finishing my study of Lawrence: he is the one person you cannot write about here, in Oxford; and Oxford is the one place where you cannot write about Lawrence."


"Out of Sheer Rage" is full of prose like that: drivel that, to paraphrase Truman Capote, isn't so much writing as typing. Dyer spends the whole book -- all 230-odd interminable pages of it -- carping and complaining, basically making himself out to be nothing so much as a spoiled, unpleasant, condescending, childish individual. Once in a while he shows a flash of brilliance, as when, while spending time in Italy, he observes that "opera begins in the market where ... stall holders have to convey the colour and taste of fruit in their voices." But mostly Dyer is just a royal pain in the ass, and by the time he actually gets around to talking about Lawrence's ideas, somewhere around Page 100, it's way too little, too late. "Out of Sheer Rage" is about as rational as a toddler's tantrum -- and it's not even as entertaining.

Stephanie Zacharek

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

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