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The Missing of the Somme Paperback – August 9, 2011

4.8 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“A lyrical meditation on memory and the meaning of World War I. . . . [A] thoughtful and thought-provoking pilgrimage through the war’s bibliography and battlefields. . . . Illuminate[s] how thoroughly memory and history are interwoven with literature.”
The Wall Street Journal
“[A] strange and wonderful meditation on the cultural legacy of World War I. . . . The Missing of the Somme shows us that stark simplicity isn’t the only way to talk about war. . . . [It is] a lovely, alive work.”
San Francisco Chronicle
The Missing of the Somme . . . looks back at the unfathomable destruction of [World War I] through the fogged, distorted lens of collective memory, which can only deteriorate further with the passing of time. . . . How do we bring ourselves to acknowledge such awful events? And what purpose do memorials really serve? They are, Dyer implies, inherently insufficient.”
The Boston Globe
“Fresh and often unsettling. . . . Sophisticated and nuanced. . . . Quirky but often brilliant. . . . The timing could not be more appropriate. . . . For Americans, as for Britons, memory of World War I is now entirely a matter of secondhand information. Only the films, books and monuments remain. Dyer poignantly and at times playfully examines the way these objects shape his countrymen’s mental picture of what happened between 1914 and 1918. . . . As [his] meditation on remembrance demonstrates, reminders of the past do have a life of their own, shaping and reshaping the vision of history we carry in our minds. . . . The Missing of the Somme will not disappoint [Dyer’s] fans.”
The Kansas City Star
“[An] instant classic. . . . Dyer supports his point with an impressive survey of poems, letters, memoirs, and novels, combined with a perceptive analysis of British war memorials, and utilizing extensive citations.”
Publishers Weekly

“Brilliant. . . . The great Great War book of our time.”
The Observer

“Dyer delights in producing books that are unique, like keys.”
—James Wood, The New Yorker

“[A] penetrating meditation upon war and remembrance.”
The Daily Telegraph
“No contemporary writer blends genres like Geoff Dyer.”
“A loving book . . . about mourning and memory, about how the Great War has been represented—and our sense of it shaped and defined—by different artistic media. . . . Its textures are the very rhythms of memory and consciousness.”
The Guardian

About the Author

Geoff Dyer is the author of four novels, a critical study of John Berger, and five other books, including But Beautiful, which was awarded the Somerset Maugham Prize, and Out of Sheer Rage, which was a National Book Critics Circle finalist. He lives in London.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Original edition (August 9, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307742970
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307742971
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #94,325 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
In The Missing of the Somme (Vintage), Geoff wrote an essay of 130 pages. No real chapters, just double-spaced breaks with italicized headings as he transits from one related theme to another. To make his points the author cites numerous quotations from Sigfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Rudyard Kipling, Isherwood and others. Photos of statues and stone war memorials, including the two massive white pylons of the Vimy Ridge Canadian tribute to 11,285 native sons who were counted as "missing," scatter the text. Dyer also compares a desolate painting by Caspar David Friedrich with a photograph of a bombed wasteland; in each one man stands as if he were the last human being on earth.

The British author links himself in with his forebears...in particular his grandfather who enlisted in 1914 and served as a driver of horse-drawn vehicles on the Somme but who fortunately lived to the age of 91 instead of falling and never again rising from the blood-soaked earth. Dyer proposes that his grandfather's contemporaries embraced an ideal that made " 'a virtue of calamity' " and dressed up " 'incompetence as heroism,' " as exemplified earlier by the failed Scott expedition to the South Pole and then by the unbelievable loss of life in the trenches of the war.

When armistice came, Europe set about building vast cemeteries for those who could be identified and for those who were "missing" or unidentifiable. Dyer and three companions visited the Western Front/Somme and he expressed his thoughts about them. Among the chosen sites was the French cemetery at Notre Dame de Lorette where 45,000 named and unnamed are honored.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"If I should die, think only this of me,
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England."
-- Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)

"What passing bells for these who die as cattle?"
-- Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

Why is it that the Great War exerts such power over the European literary imagination, even as we approach the centenary of its outbreak, a power that the Second World War cannot remotely equal? Perhaps because of the sheer scale of the carnage. Perhaps because, in the popular mind, it remains a war without reason, whose causes only historians fully understand. Perhaps because, as novelist Geoff Dyer points out in this extended essay, it was a war that memorialized itself from its inception, to be fought and written about in the future perfect, with an eye to how future generations will see it. And it is a war that seems to have taken a 180-degree turn in public perception over the course of the century, without ever losing its enormity as a memorial to heroism or folly.

I have witnessed these changes for myself. At the age of ten, I was taught the structure of a sonnet, not from the works of Shakespeare or Keats, but from the poem by Rupert Brooke quoted above, then considered the epitome of English patriotic modesty. Remembrance Day in November, the red poppies in everyone's lapels, the two-minute silence observed nationwide, these were more than empty rituals. At chapel each day in my boarding school, I sat under the memorial to Rupert Brooke (an alumnus), whose complete sonnet was carved into the marble. Taking weekly communion in the Memorial Chapel, I was surrounded on three sides by the names of the fallen in the Great War (with only one wall for the later conflict).
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Format: Paperback
I must confess that I bought this book only because Geoff Dyer wrote it and he is my favorite author and I am a completist. I figured it was an early novel, something to give me insight into his development.
Imagine my disappointment when it arrived and I discovered it was History. Mind you, I love history (check the other reviews I've written), but I tend to find a subject and read everything I can about before I burn out and move onto something else and I really couldn't be bothered to develop a new fascination for the Great War with so many others still going.
A year later, on a whim, I brought the book with me on vacation and found myself in Paris dining alone after marching against the war. It was the first book in my bag that I grabbed and by the end of dinner I was getting all choked up and teary-eyed. By chance sitting not so far from the Somme with this book in my hands, thinking of a war not yet started, at the table in the corner, it was very affecting. But I think anyone who is interested in this perspective will find it moving whether in peacetime or war, in Nebraska or Tokyo or Egypt.
The book itself succeeds because it's not about numbers and casualties, but how we remember these struggles and how we forget them at the same time. It succeeds by placing the reader not in the conflict, something he/she could never know, but in his/her own seat: remembering that which wasn't experienced. To say more would be to demean the book and Dyer's superb writing so just read it.
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