‘The Missing of the Somme’ by Geoff Dyer

This weekend I finished reading a book that I ordered several months ago after learning about the author, Englishman Geoff Dyer, in a Paris Review interview. The book is The Missing of the Somme, published in 1994, but which has resurfaced in discussions this summer because of the centennial of World War I. The stories of WWI are a gap in my knowledge, a piece of history that I never much explored. Dyer’s book is about public remembrance, civic commemoration, and private memory, all in the context of his visiting the many memorials for those who died in the so-called Great War. He visits cemeteries, examines monuments, reviews books, and talks about his own family history since his grandfather had been a horse-tender in WWI. We’ve already been getting a lot of coverage in the media about the war, with commentators looking for connections between then and now. The carnage is beyond capture in words and pictures. The politics that fed the armies into the war-processor is criminal. Dyer is an engaging writer who makes the subject his own, undercutting any cheap emotion, snark, or misty patriotism with his sharp asides plus thoughtful analysis of sculptural methods and war poetry. It’s a short book for a long war, and a “slant” take on a subject we’ll be hearing and reading more about.