‘White Sands’ by Geoff Dyer

Experiences from the Outside World.

White Sands

Geoff Dyer begins this collection with an explanatory note:

[T]his book is a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. What’s the difference? Well, in fiction stuff can be made up or altered. My wife, for example, is called Rebecca whereas in these pages the narrator’s wife is called Jessica. So that’s it really. […] The main point is that the book does not demand to be read according to how far from a presumed dividing line—a line separating certain forms and the expectations they engender—it is assumed to stand.

Had I read this note before I ordered the book, I wouldn’t have ordered the book. More and more these days, it seems, writers are mixing fiction and non-fiction without making a clear distinction between the two. When WG Sebald does it, it works magnificently. When almost anyone else does it, it irritates. The ‘presumed dividing line’ between fiction and non-fiction is—or should be—a gaping chasm. Anyone who tries to straddle it is asking for trouble. When you mix fiction with non-fiction without making it clear which is which, you make it all into fiction. Which is fine. But I don’t particularly want to read fictitious ‘essays’, no matter how entertaining they might be—as they mostly are, in this case.

I appreciate this makes me totally shallow.