Flirting in Beijing, failing to see the northern lights, suffering a stroke in LA … Dyer is a laconic, amusing travelling companion, who is increasingly interested in permanence and transience
On his website, Geoff Dyer writes that his new book was nearly called Where Do We Come From, What Are We, Where Are We Going, a translation of an inscription scratched into the top corner of one of Paul Gauguin’s famous Tahitian paintings. Although this borrowed title may have been too long in an industry where hashtag-ability is now a concern, in truth it captures the book’s scope and ambition perfectly.
As well as being a sharp and evocative collection of travel essays that takes the reader to such locations as China, New Mexico, Svalbard and Los Angeles, and various landscapes of Dyer’s memory, White Sands is an examination of some of the fundamental questions of life. It begins with a chapter that bears a shortened version of the Gauguin painting’s title: “Where, What, Where”. In it Dyer recounts a trip to French Polynesia in pursuit of the ghost of the great artist, but visions of an unblemished idyll quickly give way to a grotty reality check, and to reflections on the slick and sickly commodification of place.