In praise of graceful endings

Geoff Dyer’s breezy erudition is typically impressive
June 16, 2022
The Last Days of Roger Federer
Geoff Dyer
Buy on
Buy on
Prospect receives commission when you buy a book using this page. Thank you for supporting us.

Geoff Dyer’s first book, The Colour of Memory, opened with the narrator congratulating himself on his talent for getting fired. One constant in Dyer’s ceaselessly inventive career is an interest in endings and leave-takings, departures and transitions: quitting writing about DH Lawrence in favour of a more interesting subject in Out of Sheer Rage, or quitting England for an exotic elsewhere in his travel writing. But in this new book he considers how to achieve a graceful end to a writing life—and to life altogether.

Dyer’s meditation on this question guides this book, a loose theme even by his digressive standards. Over roughly 200 fragmentary passages, Dyer inspects the last days of his dearest heroes, and probes a foreboding sense that his own may now be upon him. Relatively absent is tennis champion Roger Federer himself, whose enduring “late style” receives only a brief encomium, chiefly as a comparison to Dyer’s injury-torn game. (“This book must not be allowed to become an injury diary or sprain journal,” he notes.) 

Dyer’s critical range is typically impressive, his breezy erudition taking you, in just a few pages, from John Coltrane’s last recordings to Wordsworth’s The Prelude, from Turner’s late-career abstraction to Martin Amis’s Inside Story—a work this strongly resembles, with its air of a “best of” anthology that recycles old material. 

Though most of Dyer’s writing is about other people, this book is really a kind of auto-nonfiction—his snarky wit, boyish enthusiasm and melodic prose binding together at times scattered ideas. But here his typical archness is lent a deeper beauty by his subject; the prospect of a final ending provides, in Saul Bellow’s phrase, “the dark backing a mirror needs before we can see anything.”