Sunday, March 22, 2009

Out of Sheer Rage

I've just finished reading Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence by Geoff Dyer and on the one hand I have no idea what to say about it, on the other, I have so much to say. The book, it's billed as a novel, is an account of Dyer's inability to write a "study" of Lawrence, a writer about whom he's wanted to write since he was a teenager. (Dyer describes himself as in his late thirties at the time of his writing.).

On the one hand, it's as hugely self-indulgent as you'd imagine a book about writer's block would be and you kind of get that by page ten. (OK, so I get the tender irony of saying any other writing is "self-indulgent" in a blog.)

On the other, Dyer gets the inertia of starting a project, the problem of being in the middle of it, and the break of understanding that comes with almost being able to look back on it so exactly right, that I for one was happy to join him on the slog. I never got lost in this book, but I felt completely in it. While I was reading it, Dyer felt like a person in my life, something that happens whenever I recognize that I'm lost in a book. And I liked having him around. (I probably liked it more than I liked have Dorothea from Middlemarch around, but maybe that's because I'm more familiar with people like Dyer, and I was always a little put off by how beautiful Elliot made Dorothea out to be.)

But Dyer's book was, for me, a great success, and I know it had to be tricky, The insertion of yourself as the writer writing about a writer is a hard thing to pull off, and because of this, the book is, in a very strange way, a nice companion piece to Janet Malcolm's brilliant The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, which is as much about the project of biography as it is about Plath and Hughes. Malcolm's book is as heady and precise as Dyer's is casting and almost lyrical in its evocation of procrastination. Both get at how little we can know about anyone else and how the process of non-fiction writing, particularly about people, is, in its narrative demands, as much about writing fiction as anything. In any case, I recommend both books for entirely different reasons.

Did I mention I feel chastened by Frank Rich?

No comments: