What can you say of a book that starts with the line - "In August, it rained all the time."? Literary connotations of rain, as in Hemingway's 'A Farewell to Arms' immediately come to mind. It is safe to assume that Dyer is well aware of the build-up he is creating - indeed he draws on Hemingway (The Sun Also Rises) later in his book when one of his characters says "We are all a lost generation".
Within the first few pages after this remarkable line, the protagonist is thrown out of his 'rented' house, loses his job, and soon has his car stolen. In other words he is set up for re-entering the 'other life'. Through him, Dyer leads us into the 'other world', the 'other view' of life.
In a high-pitched discussion at a drunk party, one of his main characters, Steranko, makes a crisp speech about how he is involved in some of the most important political work of his time- "I don't eat at McDonalds.., I don't see [s**t] films, if someone is reading a tabloid-I try to make sure that I don't see it.., when people talk of house prices, I don't listen...!". This aversion to mass activities and interests is the underlying theme of the book.
The small group of friends that 'rides together' in Brixton is in a world of its own. They think their own thoughts, discuss the most important and most trivial issues of life amongst themselves,and play their own invented card games. Their perspective on life, though impractical at times, is fresh and often throws insights into life that 'normal' people 'who buy houses' miss.
Dyer's excellence at his craft keeps the book rolling at a perfect pace without any overt plot, moving from one snapshot of the city's life in the 1980s to another. The structure of the book is itself a rebellion against conventional forms of the novel. As Freddie, the wannabe author says about his own book "Oh no, there's no plot. Plots are what get people killed."! Maybe not as challenging as James Joyce's "Finnegans Wake", but certainly a refreshing way to look at the concept and structure of a novel.
In many ways, the rebellion of his characters and their unacceptance of conventional wisdom, is reminiscent of J.D.Salinger's Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye). The issues change, the age group and geography is different, but the cynicism with which the protaganists in each book regard accepted human occupations is similar.
There is a need to run away from it all. The book actually culminates with the break up of the group which starts with Freddie's sudden decision to leave the country.
In all a wonderful, painful book, that lets you in to life on the other side. A book to hold when you remember similar phases in your life, or are going through one. A book that raises several important questions, and probes us to think of answers.