Hay 2012: Geoff Dyer

Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room

Geoff Dyer tells the Hay audience that his publishers thought he was writing a book about tennis – the type of book that might catch the tail of Murray-fever and race towards the bestseller charts.

We are invited to imagine the moneymen’s consternation when what he delivered was Zona, a book about Stalker, the 1979 film by the Russian Andrei Tarkovsky, known for his slow and almost-impenetrable work. Of course, such whimsy is part of Geoff Dyer’s marketable ‘thing’, but no harm in us, the audience, playing along with the fun and laughing.

Whatever Canongate really are thinking now, lovers of Geoff Dyer, Tarkovsky and film in general are in for a rare old treat.

Dyer’s talk at Hay captures the spirit of Zona, and his other books, such as Working the Room and Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It.  He is funny, intelligent, laidback, and with a wide frame of reference.

Interesting digressions, in the book and in the talk, head off in all directions, giving fans a host of other cultural treats to seek out – the greatness of David Thomson’s Biographical Dictionary of Film and the similarities between Tarkovsky’s Mirror and Malick’s Tree of Life being two topics discussed tonight.

Geoff Dyer tells us that he first saw Stalker just after he left university, when he was gorging on films, books and music. He says that, at the time, as a pretentious young man, he viewed slowness and boredom in film as synonyms of greatness. And Tarkovsky is certainly slow. But, even now, Dyer still sees Stalker as one of his favourite ever films (Where Eagles Dare being another, by the way). He has become obsessed with it, watching it repeatedly, always finding something new.

Geoff Dyer uses the film as a starting point for an exploration into Tarkovsky, film, obsession, and, crucially, the desire to realise our deepest wishes. Zona is subtitled a book about a film about a journey to a room. For Stalker is about the search for ‘The Zone’, where people’s dreams come true. Dyer tells Hay he’s always been interested in this notion – the idea of attaining bliss or epiphany – as explored in a number of his books.

He doesn’t discuss with Hay what happens in ‘The Zone’ at the film’s end – not wanting to spoil the film for those that haven’t seen it. But, considering most of the audience had seen Stalker, and all had paid to hear a talk about it, it would’ve seemed fair to offer further insight into the film even if it did throw up the odd spoiler. Dyer wasn’t the only Hay speaker reluctant to go into specifics around storyline and meaning so as not to spoil things for future readers or viewers. This approach does seem to slightly defeat the point of such talks. Perhaps it’s fair enough when discussing new releases, but Stalker is 30 years old! Why should the Stalker-virgins get the better treatment?!

Anyway, Zona is a fine addition to Dyer’s very impressive, and very varied, body of work. Tennis fans, you have missed out.

Banner illustration by Dean Lewis