Book Review: Geoff Dyer ~ Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi

This book is actually two books linked by the narrator, Jeff. The first half is of Jeff as a degenerate freelance journalist who hates both his job ‘writing shit articles’ and himself. He reflects on lost talent and an inability to complete his novel, which he made the mistake of telling people that he was writing- ‘How’s the novel getting on? But he’s well connected and so gets the plum job of attending the Venice biennial festival. This is an opportunity for heroic drinking. A world-class freebie. There he meets Laura, a Californian with whom he falls in love. And she reciprocates enthusiastically. Cue a series of love scenes. But they part and as is the nature of their lives they sense that they’ll part for ever.

Varanasi is another freebie opportunity for Jeff. Set in Indian exotica Jeff is beguiled and abandons his western lifestyle. It isn’t as positive as outright rejection its much more a drift away from his London lifestyle. His London flat is rented out for the sort of obscene amounts that such flats command and he can live in a very good hotel. As is the case with hotels there is a constant flow of guests none of whom impinge on Jeff’s changing life.

Death in Varanasi reads as a very superior travel piece with the added attraction of brilliant writing.

We, the tourists, were immensely rich and they, the beggars and the boatmen, the masseurs and the hustlers, were unfathomably poor. The pestering was a persistent, but still voluntary, tax on luxury.1

Dyer writes an extended narrative on an encounter with a monkey which is both hilarious and full of meaning (see pp253-5). The book is worth reading just for this passage.

1 Dyer, Geoff. Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi (p. 231). Canongate Books. Kindle Edition.

Why you should read this book: It’s a very successful satire on the London art scene and a wonderfully detailed account of Varanasi.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You may well find both the sex scenes and the very detailed descriptions of India unsettling.

Buy it at amazon

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