[— Photo story
Geoff Dyer’s second novel uses the thriller format to question whether the camera ever lies. He puts Eddie Gibb in the picture.
In The Search. Geoff Dyer has given his reportage style the slip and struck out for more abstract territory. It forms a striking contrast to his first novel The Colour of Memory. acclaimed as a worthy successor to Colin Maclnnes‘ London tales. which was rooted in a particular time (the fag-end ofthe Thatcher years). and place (the vibrant pubs. shops and ﬂats of Brixton).
Basing the novel on personal experience. Dyer wrote an accurate essay about a group of young people drinking and smoking and arguing their way through a series of adventures while trying to stay as far away from the nine-to-fivc as possible. For anyone who has lived in south London, it makes an entertaining read playing ‘spot the landmark‘ but Dyer found the Rough Guide approach restricted his ability to tackle less tangible themes.
He was keen to explore, through ﬁction, his fascination with the way photographic images can tell a story. He touched it brieﬂy on this theme in The Colour of Memory but has put it at the centre of The Search. ‘The imagination is steeped in a filmic construction of reality and my writing has always been incredibly visual.’ he explains.
In the opening pages. the central character Walker is introduced in a few economical phrases as a ‘trackcr‘. the familiar lone operator of private- detective stories. Hired to hunt down a missing person. armed with the standard grainy photograph. Walker gradually realises he himself is being tracked. and the process of the search takes over from the objective. The narrative‘s realism is gradually overtaken by a series of bizarre events as Walker follows the trail from town to town. including one whose inhabitants are caught in a permanent state of suspended animation.
The theme of photography‘s frozen moments is one which recurs repeatedly throughout the novel. The
idea came to Dyer during a holiday in Italy. ‘It occured to rue that we kept getting caught in other people's holiday pictures and when you‘re taking your own picture you get other people in them.‘ he
1 says. ‘So I had the idea that you could actually track them through a day and that seemed to lend itselfto the thriller format.‘
Dyer says that one of his main objectives when he began writing the book was to avoid a jolt as the story moves from thriller to allegory. and he has certainly succeeded in disguising the join. Because Walker’s character is never fixed in any recognisable time or place. Dyer manages to draw the reader into a self-contained world with its own weird logic where time‘s arrow doubles back on itself.
Since writing The Colour of'illemm‘y. Dyer has spent much of the last four years travelling. The idea for The .S'eureh was conceived in an Italian piazza but written while on the road in the US. which accounts for the story being shot through with European and American inflections. without settling in either mode for long.
Dyer‘s interest in the effects of photographic images on perception stems mainly from the huge influence of John Berger, whose book ll’ays o/‘Seeing is required reading for any self—respecting cultural studies student. ‘I found it incredibly exciting reading Berger because it opened up a whole way of writing which combined criticism with imagination.‘ he says.
However. Dyer is anxious to avoid being set up a some kind of arch semiotician. In The .S'eoreh. he tackles various ‘big ideas’. but his stylish prose. combined with a couple of dramatic chase sequences that are just begging to be given the Hollywood treatment. makes for an enjoyany easy read.
The Search is published by Hamish Hamilton (ll [I499
_ False heroics
Recipe for a 908 bestseller: take an earth-moving but doomed romance, blend in a pastoral locale of thirty years ago to satisfy contemporary nostalgia for a simpler, morally sturdier lifestyle, season liberally with soft-focus llew-Agery and a Robert Blyllron John-influenced fantasy hero and - the piece de resistance - finish with the promise that middle-aged people, too, can experience the passionate, ecstatic love conventionally seen as the province of youth. The book in question is llobert James Walter’s ‘The Bridges of Madison County’, the story of a four- day love-affair between a ‘fortyish’ farmer’s wife, Francesca Johnson, and a 52-year-old photographer, llobert Kincaid. To date, it has sold .
somewhere between three and four million copies in the US, putting it on the way to becoming the biggest bestseller of all time.
But if Kincaid is supposed to be a new kind of Here For Our Times, we’re
really in trouble. While Francesca i remains decidedly sketchy, Waller lavishes endless lovingly descriptive , prose on llobert. lle appears ‘looking like some vision from a never-written E book called An Illustrated History of , Shamans’, manfully sweaty but wearing jewellery; he is ‘a man to whom the difference between a pasture and a meadow seemed
Robert James Waller: ‘tall and rugged-looking'
important, who get excited about sky color, who wrote a little poetry but not much fiction. Who played the guitar, ‘ who earned his living by images and carried his tools in knapsacks. Who
. seemed like the wind’. The sex, of course, is ‘tar beyond the physical’ although - of course - “the fact that he could make love for a long time without tiring was part of it’. lie says things like, ‘l am the highway and a peregrine and all the sails that ever é went to sea’; she has ‘long sequences’
v of orgasms. in the end, she refuses to go away with him because she’d ‘restrain’ him, ‘kill the wild, magnificent animal that is you’.
‘Tall and rugged-looking,’ the 52- year-old Waller apparently sees himself as matching his hero, emotionally and intellectually ‘a hundred per cent’. A veteran of the 60s folk scene, Waller is an ageing hippy with a difference, namely a PhD and an academic career in business
management. Despite claiming that he
wrote the novel (in two weeks, which is easy to believe) in the first place purely for his own pleasure, he
admitted in one interview that “we’re
all moving product, one way or another’ and has wasted no time
a producing more to move — an album of songs, ‘The Ballads of Madison
; County’, a music video and two
forthcoming collections of his
5 photographs; the film rights have been 2 bought by Steven Spielberg.
He’s also written another novel (and plans, God help us, at least six more). . The formula of ‘Slow Waltz in Cedar
Bend’ remains essentially the same - ‘, a maverick, slightly ‘wild and untamed’ Iowan economics professor (remind you of anyone?), who rides a big black motorbike, falls in mutual love-at-first-sight with a married woman; their path, naturally, doesn’t : run smooth, but eventually they have it out in the wilds of northern India (‘settle your affairs, here in the jungle,’ he thinks as he prepares to confront her. ‘Where else have men ever settled their affairs?) and live happily ever after. Waller accuses his l detractors of cynicism, but it’s not hard to see who the real cynic is here. (Sue Wilson)
The Bridges of Madison Country is published by-Mandarin at £3.99; Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend is publishhed by lleinemann at £9.99.
64 The List 3—]6 December I993