The book jacket identifies the Paris Trance as a romance. I suppose to a large extent it is indeed a romance. Geoff Dyer, who I am getting to scorningly, grudglingly admire ( more for the life he’s lead than his writing, which by no measure is any less admirable) is a writer of themes and images.
The stories of the two couples, on their own and together is developed well. The unique, perhaps even daring aspect of the book is the dedication to idleness. I’ve never come across a book where the characters mooch around as much as they do in here. It’s almost as if the book itself had smoked a joint and entered a trance.
Dyer has indeed admitted that one of the two main purposes of the book was to capture this aimlessness (the aimlessness of the 20s to be specific , the other purpose – to capture the drifting away). Dyer does capture it well in wry, informed Dyereseque prose ; a typical Dyer sentence would essentially twist on its tail contradicting its meaning yet conveying a perfect sentiment. And it is for this self flagellating funplay, that one reads Dyer. But as the book progresses the images and the themes that Dyer specializes in turn monotonous and well, excessive. Somewhere midway through the book I became slightly nonplussed and at pages even lost interest.
Dyer is a core romantic in denial. All his works or rather the books that I’ve read so far are elaborate sublimation to wrap the romance in a deliberate, middle aged sort of wisdom, even cynicism. But at its heart they are all young wild at heart romances.
Agreed that Paris Trance is a romance and agreed it is Paris, but how often do you meet a woman studying Nietzsche in Paris who also fancies walking past the idle men playing street football everyday at lunch time? She must be almost unrealistic right? This is where I find Dyer faltering in his fictions, in his conception of his fictions rather (he’s admitted he’s poor at plots).
Most of his characters save for the protagonist ( who are invariably versions of himself) lack the richness of what I would call ‘an original fiction writer’, say Zadie Smith. Often most of his women characters become versions of themselves. I couldn’t tell the difference between Nicole in Paris Trance and Laura in Jeff in Venice… Dyer seems to fail to look beyond a set template that he seems to have for his women – they are always intelligent, funny, articulate, somewhat attracted to marginalised men, and they are invariably, good at quips!
For these reasons we don’t really know much about Nicole in the book. I mean her own internal mind, her perspective. For the most of the book she is invariably looked at from outside, while pages and chapters go on about Luke. In the story both Luke and Nicole seem equally purposeless and lacking any direction, which is what makes them a great couple, well couple in a first place. But something’s got to give right? Of the two, Nicole seems more mainstream and integrated. She comes close to questioning Luke about his life once – What does he want to do? gets a typical I’m living my happiness answer and drifts back into the trance again! I felt slightly disappointed that somehow Dyer leans towards Luke than Nicole, almost overlooking her if not ignoring. I would have loved if Nicole actually broke up with Luke than the other way around. She had reasons to, yet it seemed that Dyer was too preoccupied with Luke which left the ending, in my opinion, one-sided and somewhat confused. I am aware that Dyer was trying to portray the absurdity and the confusion of the breaking up, but again it can’t be absurd without it making no sense to both the parties involved. As far as I know, the separation made perfect sense to Luke and Nicole just went with it. It’s symbolized in their parting scene where Luke makes Nicole walk away from him while he watches her leave, as though living a Noir scene of a movie he had memorized in Pariscope. She willfully complies!
Must say was slightly relieved to finish it. And quite aptly finished in travelling in Turkey in the meander river basin, the river that gave us the word meandering just what the book did in its latter half.
As a plot and characterizations quite thin actually, not one of Dyer’s best, and slightly stretched, otherwise a good read, the usual Dyer positives apply, enjoyable in most parts. I loved some of the Parisian images the book evoked, Dyer’s view of Englishness and the coffeeshop flags conversation. Even Dyer can’t convince me that the said conversation didn’t really happened in his life.
Crossposted at Project Dogeared.