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Geoff Dyer’s new collection of essays, Working the Room, begins with a girl and ends with a girl. The first, pictured in a photograph by Jacques Henri Lartigue, is reading a copy of Nehru’s The Discovery of India. Lounging poolside, decked out in a messy hula wig (a hula skirt for the head), white sunglasses and precise red lipstick, she soon has Dyer wondering about her identity. Who is she?
“But there I go, forgetting one of my own rules about photography, namely that if you look hard enough a photo will always answer your question. Well, whoever she is, she’s beautiful. Actually, I can’t really tell if that’s true, for the simple reason that I can’t see enough of her face. But she must be beautiful, for an equally simple reason: because I’m in love with her.”
Dyer keeps up this personal, personable tone throughout the collection, with idle, imaginative musings springboarding him towards wider ideas. Yet his anti-academic approach doesn’t prevent serious insights into his subjects, from Rodin (whose male figures “show the agony of coming to life”) to Denis Johnson (“A writer of distinctly American graininess: a metaphysical illiterate, a junkyard angel”).