Book Review: Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It by Geoff Dyer

I own quite a lot of travel books, I pick them up fairly cheap and it’s an oddly masochistic pleasure to read people visiting far off places and doing things that I really want to but am unable to do at the moment. So, thanks to the HMV clearance I picked up this book for a couple of quid, intrigued by the title and the praise on the back, which had the writer compared to two of my favourite writers- Hunter S Thompson and Paul Theroux.

Sadly, the blurb was writing cheques that Dyer couldn’t quite cash.

yoga

Unlike most travel books which focus on one trip or journey, or link destinations by some kind of theme, Dyer writes a series of short pieces that see him jump all over the world and his personal timeline. The pieces see him visit Amsterdam, New Orleans, Libya, Indonesia, Cambodia, Detroit and the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert.

Along the way he meets various different characters and gets high a lot. From stoned in Paris with an increasingly paranoid lady to stumbling through the streets of Amsterdam after taking mushrooms, Dyer indulges and reports on the weird thoughts and reactions that his drug use creates. One can only assume that this is what drew the comparisons to Thompson, but it’s a superficial one, and Thompson’s writing is more than just relaying his trips, it crackles and pops with manic energy, political discourse and raging emotions. Dyer’s style comes nowhere near capturing this energy.

That’s not to say Dyer is a bad writer, there are times of genuine humour and wit, and he has a knack for quickly capturing the characters he meets along the way. And there are times when his introspective turns do a great job of capturing the emotional responses to travel.

There are interesting moments when Dyer is not afraid to show his weaknesses- fear, selfishness and his baser instincts all shine through at different points, and this kind of honesty is to be admired. And a section where Dyer and his friend pick which Cambodian Coca Cola to buy from is interesting as it highlights the gap between the West and the poorer parts of Asia, and makes for slightly uncomfortable reading.

Dyer’s major failing as a writer though is that at times it all feels grindingly pretentious, while Paul Theroux can casually slip in a literary quote and the reader takes it in their stride, here it often feels more forced and this is exacerbated by some of the navel gazing philosophical drivel that spills out onto the page. While he is capable of some genuine insight, all too frequently it descends into up-it’s-own-arse dross, particularly in some of the conversational excerpts where I found myself thinking of all those godawful arthouse films where characters talk in metaphors and pseudo-intellectual bollocks which bares little to no resemblance to how people actually talk in real life.

That being said, it’s a fairly quick read and while you may occasionally find yourself thinking “Oh, shut up!” it just about pulls through. It’s provided me with a few more places I want to go to, but I don’t think I’d like to go with Dyer as a companion.

Verdict: If it’s on the cheap like when I found it, pick up a copy as it’s a quick read and genuinely amusing and interesting in places, even if at times Dyer becomes an incredibly frustrating narrator. Probably best not to read the hyperbolic praise on the back as it’ll raise your expectations beyond what Dyer can match. 5/10

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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