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The Missing of the Somme

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  487 Ratings  ·  82 Reviews
Geoff Dyer’s classic The Missing of the Somme is part travelogue, part meditation on remembrance—and completely, unabashedly, unlike any other book about the First World War. Through visits to battlefields and memorials, he examines the way that photographs and film, poetry and prose determined—sometimes in advance of the events described—the way we would think about and r ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published August 9th 2011 by Vintage (first published December 31st 2001)
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Jeffrey Keeten
Feb 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Around WW1 Group
Shelves: ww1
”Crosses stretch away in lines so long they seem to follow the curvature of the earth. Names are written on both the front and back of each cross. The scale of the cemetery exceeds all imagining. Even the names on the crosses count for nothing. Only the numbers count, the scale of loss. But this is so huge that it is consumed by itself. It shocks, stuns, numbs. Sassoon’s nameless names here become the numberless numbers. You stand aghast while the wind hurtles through your clothes, searing your ...more
Mike Clinton
Jun 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Dyer expertly and often evocatively writes about the cult of remembrance surrounding the Great War (the nomenclature he prefers to the First World War - and which feels right to me, too.) In this case, remembrance is largely in a British idiom, although some American (Dos Passos, Hemingway, Fitzgerald) and French (Barbusse, Dorgeles) references appear now and then. Dyer goes beyond literature to consider memorials, visual art, photography, popular song, ceremonies, pilgrimages - a wide range of ...more
Roger Brunyate
What passing bells?
If I should die, think only this of me,
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England, England's own.

— Rupert Brooke (1887–1915)

What passing bells for these who die as cattle?
— Wilfred Owen (1893–1918)
Why is it that the Great War exerts such power over the European literary imagination, even as we approach the centenary of its outbreak, a power that the Second World War cannot remotely equal? Perhaps because of the sheer scale of the carnage. Perhaps bec
Apr 27, 2012 marked it as to-read
To say I'm still "currently-reading" this would be dishonest. I read exactly half of it before becoming rather distracted by my reading of Roubaud, and now it has been like a month and a half, and Geoff Dyer and this book deserve better than that, because the half I read was wonderful, so I'm setting it aside until later, when I have the will to read it all in one go. Sorry Geoff, you spell your name the right way, I will do you justice another time.
Mikey B.
Jan 30, 2013 rated it liked it
This is a rambling read as the author shifts gears from time to time and swings abruptly from the past and into the present. Some of the present is uninteresting, as when the author recounts his friends and the contents of their rental car.

There are, now and then, some touching observations on the cemeteries that he visits in France. Mr. Dyer discusses the writings of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Statues and memorials commemorating the Great War are featured along with some pictures of t
Nov 14, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013-reads
An early book by one of my favorite writers, with that characteristic Dyer way of approaching a subject sideways, a little differently than anyone else. It's an exploration of Great War commemoration, from Owen and Sassoon to comparatively unknown memoirists who played off those, to late 20th-century novels like Pat Barker's and Sebastian Faulks's that intentionally (Barker) and unintentionally (Faulks) echoed the memoirists (who were themselves echoing Owen) and even Ondaatje's English Patient ...more
A fine meditation on memorials for the dead of the Great War and how we construct the memories we hope to fix into stone or bronze. Dyer's essay grows out of Paul Fussell's work in "The Great War and Modern Memory" but stands very much on its own. Dyer is less interested in the literary antecedents of Great War literature than in the concrete ways England tried to hold on to a memory of the war and its losses. His account (this would be in the early 1990s, a decade or so before the issues of mil ...more
Jul 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Perhaps that is what is meant by ‘lonelyness’ — knowing that even at your moments of most exalted emotion, you do not matter (perhaps this is precisely the moment of most exalted emotion) because these things will always be here: the dark trees full of summer leaf, the fading light that has not changed in seventy-five years, the peace that lies perpetually in wait.

There's really no better closer in any book I have ever read - how he manages to take the stinking mess of millions dead, the forgott
Caitlin Stamm
May 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
The Missing of the Somme is described as "part travelogue, part meditation on remembrance" and this is certainly accurate--I would say that the "meditation on remembrance" occupies most of the first half of the book, and the travelogue aspect really kicks in at the end, mingling together with the discussion on remembrance in a really beautiful way.

Dyer writes about the modes of memory surrounding and built up both by and because of World War I, focusing particularly on the war memorials and art
Jun 24, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A meandering sort of stream of consciousness, but well composed and engaging. I especially liked the critical analysis of the war poetry, and the introduction (for me) to some war artists that I hadn't previously heard of. I thought the strongest parts of the book though were Dyer's personal memories of his trip with friends to the Somme region; thought-provoking and touching at the same time. Would recommend to others who have an interest in this period of history, especially if you have a part ...more
Susan Liston
Parts of this book are very moving, but it also gets a little dry in others. I read a book like this to cry, damn it. (of course this is my opinion, others seem to disagree) I did appreciate all the references to other books, some of which I own but haven't read. I think the a bit of a problem for me was that it sort of jumped around, there wasn't a smooth narrative, it's part this part that, which is even in its official description. But I will definitely keep it as a reference.
Dec 01, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wanted to like this but found it hard reading. Made it through it because it was relatively short. Still trying to figure out what all those who gave it such wonderful reviews got out of it that I missed. I wanted it to be more of a travelog - when the author visited battlefields and memorials, it was interesting and well written. But the literary references and discussions, something I normally enjoy, were tedious and obscure.
Nov 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011, non-fiction
I wish I'd known about this book when I directed Journey's End. Dyer is sympathetic, without being sentimental, and the result is an honest account of how we memorialize great tragedy.
Nov 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
History, literary criticism, and travelogue all in one. A vitally important view of a vitally important moment for framing the remainder of the 20th century.
Jun 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, favorites
Review posted on BookLikes:
Jul 11, 2017 rated it really liked it

Dyer has taken a fairly original and refreshing angle on the Great War, and although this was first published 23 years ago, it still retains all the fresh and powerful qualities it had back in 94. Dyer explains some of the background and lead up to WWI by alluding to Cpt Scott’s disastrous Antarctic expedition, describing, “A memorial service for one of the most inefficient of polar expeditions, and one of the worst of polar expeditions.” Going onto say that Scott’s failure took its place alongs
Simon Woodrup
Aug 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was the World War One book I'd been craving.
It's not a history of the war and assumes the reader has a basic knowledge of The Great War, and neither is it an academic tome.
Rather it is a beautiful and powerful reflection of the Great War set around the author's travels to the Western Front battlefields and memorials culminating with his sobering visit to Thiepval where the insanely massive loss of British lives occurred at the Battle of the Somme.
Geoff Dyer fills the book with anecdotes
Jun 25, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Certainly an original take on understanding the war (and at times human psychology in general) through literature and art, written in Dyer's characteristically interesting prose. But as a book, it veers toward a collection of close reading exercises à la undergraduate English essays, without the contextual information or control of scope necessitated by academic writing. It is a roaming elegy with many motifs and no central through line (much like the Great War, I suppose). His analysis of the s ...more
Christopher Condit
This is a pretty good book about thinking back about the Great War. In particular it is a better, readable version of Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory, but reduced down to the point of view of the author alone. It's hard to make dead soldiers into heroes when they fought in a war that accomplished exactly nothing. Reasonably insightful.
Aug 02, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, world-war-i
The War to End All Wars didn't. At least in the United States, the vast majority of those alive today probably view World War I as the chapter in their history textbook before the Depression and World War II. And the death earlier this year of the last surviving combat veteran of the Great War reinforces that people with firsthand memories of the conflict recollection of it grow fewer each day. Yet British author Geoff Dyer suggests that even while it was being fought, "the characteristic attitu ...more
Jun 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Reading Geoff Dyer’s “The Missing of the Somme” I was struck by how the book complements Fussell’s “The Great War and Modern Memory” as a rumination on war and remembrance. Near the end of this short book, Dyer admits: “Reading [Fussell]—or anyone else for that matter—I am searching for what is not there, for what is missing, for what remains to be said.” And therein lies the crux of both the strength and weakness of this book; Dyer is going over well-trod ground in trying to come up with new in ...more
Jerry Smith
Mar 07, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, war, 2013-read
An interesting idea. Dyer charts the memorial story of the Great War through his own eyes (as he travels) and also in a more general sense as a historial looking back nearly 100 years to the war itself and how we chose to remember it in the 20s, through to how we remember it now.

It is poignant and raises many questions about the nature of remembrance and how we view the war at all, the inadequacy of words, the platitudes (horror of war) that we use so much they have become cliches. Also examines
Norman Cohen
May 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to read more by Geoff Dyer the second I put down "Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi." I wasn't sure that "The Missing of the Somme" was the right book of his to go to next, and that feeling persisted throughout much of my reading of the first half of the book. Not that "The MIssing of the Somme" is not equal to his novel; they are just so very different. I was hoping for more insights into human personality, and more of Dyer's original take on human existence.

But I realized to my great
William Kirkland
Written for a British audience and that of his generation, Dyer visits war memorials, massive grave-fields, looks at photographs, reads poems and fiction to understand "the effect of the idea of the war on my generation." Along the way he has some very interesting observations, for example, that war for most soldiers was a continuation of their laboring lives, without any protections of unions or safety rules, or that, “since [gas]could not be evaded, resisted or fled from, it eliminated the pos ...more
Apr 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Memoir-like in its ruminations on an ancestor's service in the Great War, Geoff Dyer's book provides a wealth of topics for discussion here. Central to the book is a fascinating analysis of First World War monuments -- and what, exactly, they memorialize. To say I hung on every word of this would be an exaggeration, but I am pleased to have finished it.

Favorite take-away, describing the physical material of a war that took place 100 years ago:

"Things were made of iron and wood, even cloth look
Dec 25, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I started the year reading Paul Fussell's classic The Great War and Modern Memory, so I liked the symmetry of finishing it with another WWI book. Unfortunately, Geoff Dyer's The Missing of the Somme inevitably suffers by comparison, as Dyer himself notes halfway through It, when he writes that "Fussell has himself become a part of the process whereby the memory of the war becomes lodged in the present. His commentary has become part of the testimony it comments on. Reading him...I am searching f ...more
Apr 08, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: geoff, reviewed
Reading this book is profoundly depressing. It’s not the fault of the author, I find any books about this subject – the Great War – to be utterly demoralising. Yet I don’t feel the same about Hitler’s War. I think it’s because, despite all the atrocities, WW2 was at least justified to rid the world of a menace. But it feels like the dead of WW1 died for nothing. The world wasn’t a better place – in fact it had to get a whole lot worse before it got better.
There is an insufferable sadness and fu
Scott Martin
(Audiobook). With the advent of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, I was looking for a book to read to discuss the battle and World War I. Well, this book really didn't talk all that much about the Battle of the Somme, but it did discuss how we have come to remember that battle, along with the rest of the war. World War I left such a mark on the British Empire and its people, from literature to history to memorials...this book provides insight into how England and the world came t ...more
Jonathan Hiskes
Dyer's notes on how England and France have remembered the 'Great War' through public memorials, poetry, and photography. His research leads him to conclude early on that the war's participants were concerned, immediately as the war started, with its remembrance. In the face of the first war to totally obliterate towns, landscapes, human bodies ... there is solace in any archive of that which has vanished. Dyer's humor and first-person travels are downplayed; this is something of a "sober academ ...more
Mark Field
Mar 07, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nerd-list, 2013
With the centenary of The Great War approaching I am sure there will be a revival of interest in literature related to it. Personally I like social histories of the individuals involved, and the untold stories of the common man and their role in history. I like Dyer, he is always interesting and has a very different perspective on the world to many others, his style is unconventional, whatever that actually is. this book is a meditation on remembrance, of the common man and the sacrifice made du ...more
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Geoff Dyer was born in Cheltenham, England, in 1958. He was educated at the local Grammar School and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He is the author of four novels: Paris Trance, The Search, The Colour of Memory, and, most recently, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi; a critical study of John Berger, Ways of Telling; five genre-defying titles: But Beautiful (winner of a 1992 Somerset Maugham Prize ...more
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“So it comes about that the war [World War I] seems, to us, to have been fought less over territory than the way it would be remembered, that the war’s true subject is remembrance. Indeed the whole war — which was being remembered even as it was fought, whose fallen were being remembered before they fell — seems not so much to be tinted by retrospect as to have been fought retrospectively.” 1 likes
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