Being Moved By a Special Place

English author Geoff Dyer (b. 1958) writes books about what interests him and is known for fusing imaginative forms. He was interviewed by Matthew Specktor for the Winter 2013 issue of The Paris Review. Following is an excerpt. Below, he talks about being in France some years ago when he was working on a novel.–PM


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“. . . I was failing completely to write this novel, and one day I went up to visit the battlefields and cemeteries of the Somme. There was a reason for this—because of Dick Diver’s trip to the Somme in Tender [Is the Night by Fitzgerald]. I went without knowing exactly what I would  find and had one of the most profound experiences of my life, culminating in arriving at the memorial in Thiepval and seeing those huge words, THE MISSING OF THE SOMME. I abandoned the novel and spent the next couple of years thinking and writing about the World War.

. . .

“As an experience, that afternoon at Thiepval was one of those moments that make life worth living—and my writing life is, in a way, the record of just such moments. I had a sense of coming to a place where history was manifested as geography, where the temporal was manifested spatially.

. . .

“You come to a place and ask what makes it special. The answer, sometimes, is because of the history that’s converged there. There’s lots of this kind of stuff in Yoga [one of Dyer’s books] as well. If I’d arrived at Thiepval with some sort of Geiger counter, it would have really started clicking away. It’s a place with a special power, and those are the places that interest me.  . . . I’ve used the phrase before, but I like it—and am on the lookout for it—places where time has stood its ground. I guess mystics or someone like Annie Dillard would say you can have comparable experiences anywhere, at any moment, but I need the help of a special place. . . .”


Thiepval Memorial Visitor Center (Web image courtesy of