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the Complete Review
the complete review - biography/literary essay


Out of Sheer Rage

Geoff Dyer

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Title: Out of Sheer Rage
Author: Geoff Dyer
Genre: literary essay
Written: 1997
Length: 232 pages
Availability: Out of Sheer Rage - US
Out of Sheer Rage - UK
Out of Sheer Rage - Canada
Out of Sheer Rage - India
  • UK subtitle: In the Shadow of D.H.Lawrence
  • US subtitle: Wrestling with D.H.Lawrence
  • Salon put this book on its Worst Books of the Year 1998 list
  • Finalist, National Book Critics Circle Award

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Our Assessment:

A- : an eminently enjoyable book about writing, in the guise of a study of D.H.Lawrence

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The American Scholar A Summer/1998 Steven G. Kellman
Boston Phoenix C+ 16/7/1998 Charles Taylor
The Guardian A 3/4/1997 James Wood
The LA Times B 6/5/1998 Richard Eder
New Statesman B- 6/6/1997 Andy Beckett
The NY Times A 20/4/1998 C. Lehmann-Haupt
Salon D- 4/5/1998 Stephanie Zacharek
San Francisco Chron. B 13/9/1998 David Kipen
The Spectator A+ 19/4/1997 William Scammell
The Sunday Times A 31/5/1998 Pam Barrett
TLS A 28/3/1997 Phil Baker
The Washington Post B+ 6/9/1998 Kelly Murphy Mason

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus -- most found the humour and style engaging, some found it highly irritating.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Geoff Dyer's Out of Sheer Rage is a categorical tease and a manic meditation on the nature of biography and on human nature, blithely razzing readers who seek a conventional reconstruction of the life of D. H. Lawrence." - Steven G. Kellman, The American Scholar

  • "If a writer is going to spend 200-plus pages jerking off, he could at least have the decency to enjoy the experience." - Charles Taylor, Boston Phoenix

  • "Though his book avoids becoming `a book about Lawrence', it gives a better picture of that writer than any biography I know." - James Wood, The Guardian

  • "Out of Sheer Rage is about as rational as a toddler's tantrum -- and it's not even as entertaining." - Stephanie Zacharek, Salon

  • "I enjoyed this uncategorisable minor masterpiece so much that I swallowed it in two or three hours and wanted to send the author a telegram saying Hooray!" - William Scammell, The Spectator

  • "It sounds like sheer self-indulgence, but is, in fact, wonderfully funny." - Pam Barrett, The Sunday Times

  • "Out of Sheer Rage is another document of the contemporary turning away from the novel as a privileged form, and the increasing fascination of the para-textual. (...) Above all, this is a beguiling and deceptively light autobiographical text of considerable acuteness and insight about the reader's relationship with the author and with literature itself, and about the compulsive byways of reading, writing and not-writing." - Phil Baker, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Out of Sheer Rage is smart and furious enough to justify its many detours." - Kelly Murphy Mason, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       One of the epigraphs at the opening of Geoff Dyer's book, from D.H.Lawrence, explains the origin of the title: "Out of sheer rage I've begun my book on Thomas Hardy. It will be about anything but Thomas Hardy I am afraid -- queer stuff -- but not bad." Summing up Mr. Dyer's book as well. His intention -- so we are told -- was to write a study of D.H. Lawrence. What we are presented with is a book nominally about not writing a study of D.H.Lawrence (though in fact Dyer cleverly slips in a great deal about Lawrence).
       Mr. Dyer is an unusual and oft times irritating man -- at least in the persona he describes in his book. He does not have writer's block, rather he seems singularly unable to focus and accomplish any set task. As soon as he decides to do something -- write about Lawrence, for example -- he does everything but. Describing the difficulties of going about the actual writing Dyer is frequently extremely funny: his indecisiveness about dragging along Lawrence's Complete Poems, a hefty tome that he is convinced he needs but realizes he won't use if he has it at his side, is one of many fine set pieces. Vacillating, waffling, lackadaisical, Dyer is a fun comic figure, though especially in the early stages of the book he overdoes it and the reader's urge to smack him upside the head and just get him to get on with it becomes overpowering.
       Nevertheless, Dyer hits his stride, and his search for inspiration and material, which leads him to most of Lawrence's old haunts (his birthplace, Sardinia, Mexico, New Mexico), make for fun adventures -- and, eventually, a fair amount of insight into Lawrence. Dyer skips (and overlooks) the obvious, and it makes for an often refreshing point of view. Pilgrimages to Lawrence sites are inevitably anticlimactic, with Dyer finding his concerns and interests focussed elsewhere -- and thereby offering a different but equally interesting view of Lawrence.
       The book is about many things: Dyer, first and foremost, as well as about writing, and about Lawrence. It is a travel book, and a meditation on many things great and small. It is even a decent literary analysis of Lawrence, taking dead aim at dry and unreadable modern literary scholarship and proving that there are other ways of going about it.
       Dyer compares Lawrence to, among others, Thomas Bernhard, whom he acknowledges as one of his favourite authors. Out of Sheer Rage is, in many respects, Bernhard-lite. Stylistically Dyer imitates the master (the frequent repetition of a thought with slight variations for emphasis, for example), and Dyer displays a similar rage (aimed at similar targets) -- and he shares Bernhard's humor, though there is not quite the same weight and oppressive darkness to it. Out of Sheer Rage is a much easier read than most of Bernhard's books, but there is much to be taken seriously here, and the presentation is, by and large, well done.
       We thought the last few paragraphs were a cop-out, in so far as the point of the book is clear throughout and does not need such hackneyed explication, but otherwise this book, for all its frustrations, is very, very fine indeed. There are many small things one can quibble about, but it is a great pleasure to read (with some true laugh out loud passages -- and believe us, we are not usually laugh out loud type readers). We enjoyed it greatly and we can not imagine that anyone interested in literature or writing would not be -- though Dyer's book is much more than a meditation on writing. What Dyer describes is, indeed, the human condition -- pushed to a bizarre and literary-focussed extreme -- and is valid far beyond the writing world.

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Out of Sheer Rage: Reviews: Geoff Dyer: D.H.Lawrence: Other books by Geoff Dyer under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Geoff Dyer was born in 1958. He attended Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He has written several novels, a study of John Berger, and several books that his publishers describe as "genre-defying".

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