Geoff Dyer’s “Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi”

I’m happy to say that I came across a very interesting and very talented writer Geoff Dyer. His novel Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi (2009) consists of two parts, one set in Italy, the other in India, and whether they’re connected or not depends on whether the protagonist (Jeff Atman) in the first part is the same man (unnamed) in the second part. I guess it also depends on the reader’s interpretation. To me, these two are different men.

The first part is about erotic love, the second one is about spiritual yearning, but both men seek some sort of self-discovery and fulfillment. Curiously enough, they are not teenagers trying to understand who they are (as you would expect), but discontented middle-aged men (journalists, no less) who are still searching for their true self.

Usually we as readers want, and expect, something happening in a novel—some action, adventure, disaster—that would make us turn pages and stay up late, unable to put a book down. Well, in this novel, especially in the first part, not much happens. Jeff Atman comes to Venice with an assignment to interview a celebrity and write an article about the international art festival, Biennale, but once he meets the mesmerizing Laura, all he does is partying and lovemaking—for four days straight.

It would be a pretty boring read if not for the author’s incredible gift of storytelling, wisdom, and sense of humor. Seriously, I didn’t care about “no action” on the character’s part because I enjoyed the prose too much. Strongly recommend.

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