Book Review: The Search by Geoff Dyer

The Search

I picked this book up in my work as I really loved Paris Trance by Geoff Dyer which I read late last year. This is more of a novella than a novel at 164 pages so it could be read in one sitting. I read it very quickly, it’s one of those books that you just get sucked into.

The book felt very cinematic to me and probably recalled films more so than other books. The beginning feels a little like Chinatown, that film noir feel where a private detective is led into hunting someone down without really knowing what he has let himself in for. There were also scenes which recalled Inception for me, when Walker is wandering through towns and settings that feel altered yet familiar.

The Search begins when Walker meets a woman called Rachel at a party who later appears at his door asking if he can help track down her husband Malory (from whom she is separated) and get him to sign a few legal documents. Walker accepts the challenge and this sets off a trip across America, following vague clues and instincts as he tries to track him down.

There were several things that I loved about this book, but I think the main one was the exploration of photography. Walker starts his search in Malory’s apartment and comes across a photograph entite ‘Unknown Self Portrait’ and wonders ‘at the face of this strange ghost, captivated by the closed logic of the picture’. He passes through a train station and with time to kill ends up in a photobooth, a ‘machine [that] didn’t care; it recorded but didn’t notice’.

In one of the cities he passes through, every single person is frozen in time and the clock stays frozen at 4.09 – this captured the frozen moments in photos – that ‘Every action was poised on the brink of a precipice any moment or action brought you to the edge of infinity.’

There is a wonderful episode towards the end where he meets an artist who is embarking on a project to capture the life of a city by looking at photos taken in the city in the course of one day by residents and tourists. Together he and Waker try to track the progress of the day by following Malory as he goes in and out of the pictures and it is a lovely exploration of photography and how it captures memories. I often wonder when I’m wandering around Edinburgh at just how many people’s photographs I am in as I am constantly having to duck and dodge and hang back while tourists snap the city. How many mantelpieces or Facebook and Instagram pages have I appeared on unknowingly? It’s quite an unnerving thing to think about.

The narrative is always moving, geographically and thematically and photography and film are always central to the search. I even kept seeing the word ‘film’ in there, at times related photography and at others as an oily substance that covers waste in a city Walker passes through. Many of the towns and cities Walker visited felt like ghost towns, some of them were empty and seemed to me like endless film sets, each one different, built for a purpose but obsolete now that they were no longer needed.

Some of the novella is pretty surreal and you just kind of have to go with it, there are certain places that he passes through that just could not exist but I enjoyed that too as Walker just seemed to accept them and didn’t question them at all, it was as if he was wandering through part of his own subconscious, feeling like this search, this quest he was on was merely an excuse for adventure and the impetus that he needed to feel like he is doing something worthwhile with his life.

I didn’t intend to write so much but I really did enjoy this little book! Perfect to escape into for a couple of hours.

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