cover image The Colour of Memory

The Colour of Memory

Geoff Dyer. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-55597-677-4

Dyer’s first novel, originally published in his native U.K. in 1989 and slightly revised for its 2014 U.S. release, is a fictional memoir that doubles as a portrait of bohemian life in gritty 1980s South London. The unnamed narrator is an intelligent but aimless man in his 20s. Rather than pursuing steady employment, he prefers to take the occasional odd job and spend most of his time conversing with friends: his workmate Carlton, the painter Steranko, pseudo-writer Freddie, the aspiring rapper Belinda, and his clumsy sister Fran. Whether bar- or cafe-hopping around Brixton, playing squash, or smoking put on rooftops, the friends frequently exchange complaints about their “piss-bin country,” with its unbearable living conditions and imminent confrontations (the threat of mugging and violence always looms). Paradoxically, the narrator and his friends depend on the government’s benefit programs to support their jazzy lifestyles. Like its subjects, the book is sharp and witty, but it lacks a plot or plan—particularly in the second half, which consists largely of a series of lyrical vignettes, urban sketches, and conversations that evoke the poignant mood of 1980s Brixton. At times the story feels a bit jumbled and arbitrarily strung together. Still, fans will enjoy reading about the characters’ obsessions (such as jazz, film, and photography), as well as Dyer’s thoughtful and absorbing digressions, which are further engaged and explored in the author’s later works. (May)