Oh to live with as much curiosity as Geoff Dyer does. Across 11 non-fiction books and four novels, essays, criticism and memoir, Dyer has looked intently at the world around him, picked and poked at it, measured his own responses, and then written about them. The result is an oeuvre like few others: the world according to Geoff.
I sometimes find a little of Dyer, of his twitching, magpie mind and peculiar leaps and connections, goes a long way. At his best, though, he is a delight, beating fresh pathways through life’s dense jungle, forever stopping to chatter about the flora and fauna, dragging in literature, music and sport to prove whatever his point is. It’s the journey that counts.
The Last Days of Roger Federer is a consideration of endings – of careers, of talent, of sanity. Dyer takes his usual widescreen approach, examining not just the declining powers of his tennis hero (“even though I’ve never met him it’s Roger, always and only Roger”), but also the octogenarian Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour, the various retirals of George Best, Beethoven’s sublime last string quartets and Turner’s final, blazing paintings. There’s space, too, for the sickly fading of DH Lawrence, the sad disillusionment of Philip Larkin and the ultimate mental decline of Nietzsche and Freud.
Dyer’s books are always, in the end, about Dyer. Now in his 60s, he was drawn to the subject of endings by a mini-stroke and a series of injuries that have made it harder for him to play his beloved tennis. He quotes his fellow writer Annie Ernaux: “The time that lies ahead of me grows short. There will inevitably be a last book, as there is always a last lover, a last spring, but no sign by which to know them.” But there are compensations to ageing, too, he finds, especially during the privations of lockdown: “Jeez, but I’m glad I’m old, old enough not to mind staying in, sitting round here revising this book, remembering all this old poetry, watching the latest compilations of Roger’s best dropshots… feeling clear-headed, not getting stoned and not drinking.”
For those of us at the stage of life once described by Martin Amis as “time to stop saying hi and start saying bye”, the search for consolation is an urgent one. As the body slows, the mind and the spirit rage on in search of a point to it all. Dyer is the kind of reflective, quick-witted and downright nosey companion you want for the narrowing road ahead.
Chris Deerin is a journalist and the director of Reform Scotland