If books weren't his business Geoff Dyer might have succeeded as a career gambler, trusting his instincts to win every time.
After award-winning titles on photography, jazz and the First World War it seems quite natural that he should publish Zona, a novel and idiosyncratic companion piece to Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker.
The discussion is studded with footnotes on Soviet cinema, Jeremy Clarkson, and boyhood memories of Cheltenham. The digressions (on George Clooney, on Björk, on miracles) occasionally overtake the main conversation, creating the sensation that you’re reading a note about a book about a film about a journey to a room.
But this is in tune with Dyer’s purpose, the two registers locked in a bicycle-race which is perfect for readers now accustomed to flitting between films, articles, distractions. Reading Zona is like being the guest of honour at an expert lecture, or watching the band from the side of the stage.
The big points accord with Tarkovsky’s themes: time, patience, happiness. Dyer suggests our innermost desires may be indistinguishable from our biggest regrets, and that we may not notice our best days until they’re past. ‘Perhaps one of the novelties of our era is the possibility of instant boredom,’ he says, ‘like instant coffee.’
But Zona is written from a position of undiminished wonder, renewing our faith in the possibilities of cinema and reminding us of the importance of living attentive lives. Saying that Dyer tests our patience is a compliment of the highest order.