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Everything ate his homework
on November 2, 2004
Geoff Dyer was the award-winning UK author of five other books, some novels and nonfiction, before he set out to write a critical study of D.H. Lawrence. It is, according to his personal codex, a rite of passage every serious author eventually must pass, writing a critical study of an important muse. He readied himself. He stocked up on books by and about Lawrence. Not good enough. He built shelves for the books. Not good enough. He went to places Lawrence went to. Not good enough. He read Lawrence's letters, many volumes of them, but not in such a way to organize his study. Instead, he behaved badly, very badly at times. His Lawrence study, OUT OF SHEER RAGE, thus became a chronicle of how not to write a book, or at least, how not to write the book you intend to write.
Ordinarily, I am not a fan of people behaving badly or whining about the nest they built and then sullied, but this book is absolutely delightful for many reasons: 1) The narrative is a study in rhythm and precise language that conveys the mania of the title. 2) Dyer actually does get off a study of Lawrence, however oblique, that is insightful and invites wonder; it's just not the particularly detailed or deadly stuff of conventional biographies, hagiographies or academic studies. It is a telescope into the soul of a man far more tortured by his own sensibilities than Dyer, who nonetheless produced an appreciable oeuvre in a short life, who was, when said and done, comic in his anxieties. 3) It is a fine meditation on the attempt to get as close to a writer as possible, through the works and through the material detritus of a person's life. 4) It is a ripping, emperor's-not-wearing-clothes indictment of academic studies, which delights me and probably continues to offend academe big time. 5) Regarding the latter, it is a fine meditation on things disparate as shrines, house museums and historical conservation. 6) It is a travelogue, after a fashion. 7) It provides a window to the experience of a breakdown. 8) Egocentric, of course, but at no time does Dyer really ask the reader's pity, he only asks that the reader be entertained and informed. 9) It is informative (see reasons 1 - 7). 10) It is highly entertaining, laugh out loud funny at times.