When I imbibed David Deutch’s ‘theory of everything’ in ‘Fabric of Reality’, in which a multiversal universe accommodates a cotillion of copies of eacWhen I imbibed David Deutch’s ‘theory of everything’ in ‘Fabric of Reality’, in which a multiversal universe accommodates a cotillion of copies of each of us living parallel lives, it was all very theoretical and frankly needed someone to come along, pull it off the shelf, and give it some real life applicability. Geoff Dyer duly obliges. He offers ‘Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi’. Which also proves that the Deutschian ‘theory of everything’ is tighly correlated with A Queneuesque take on reality, as in ‘Exercise in Style’.
Jeff is named in the first novella: a washed out, past his sell by date, rudderless freelance newspaper writer . He is not named as such in the second novella, but ….we know. Its another washed out newspaper writer. Some might posit the second novella is a continuation of the first: that it’s the same protag and we just keep following his story. Dyer leaves it open like that. Me, I like the parallel universe theory better and choose to see it as same person, taking different forks in parallel universes. In Venice, is where I think Jeff actually dies. Not physically, of course, but his raison d’etre, on the wane, seems to just dissipate in the end, petering out like the proverbial ‘candle in the wind’. And ironically, in Varnasi is where the protag finally discovers peace, of the mind and soul, and if he is not exactly reborn, then at least he forges on with equilibrium, and intention.
Obviously Dyer conforms brazenly to cliché: one loses meaning in the western world (in Venice) and finds it in the Eastern (Varnasi). No brownie points for that one. Still, he does it with finesse and with subtlety, with such understatement that it allows us to grant him leave for this little peccadillo. Dyer shies away from bombastic statements (on the staus quo), and so the protag’s complete ‘distillment’ in Venice is less a statement and more an allusion, an ephemeral whisper or nuance which the subconscious recognises. Similarly there is no ‘redemption’ as such in Varnasi. In both Venice and Varnasi the protag remains alone and diddipated, but in Varnasi there is a ‘rebalancing’ of the chakra which, although it brings no particular ‘meaning of life’ motif, goes some way to alleviating the churn, despair and hopelessness present in Venice.
Neither option (novella) offers solace or solution for those middle aged specimens of humanity who are fast becoming disillusioned with life but have (yet) to re-orienteer themselves and find new purpose. Jeff in Venice simply doesn’t (can’t) do it, and Nameless protag in Varnassi simply gives up trying and finds peace in the ‘not trying’. Whilst superficially both can be classed as ‘failed heroes’, perhaps too pathetic and lacking in purpose, drive and vision to ‘move forward’ rather than tread in one place, constantly, or perhaps steeped in ‘analysis paralysis’:
‘I’m in mourning for myself…my old self refuses to die. The new is struggling to be reborn. In this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear’ (pg 278)
Yet at the same time I secretly rejoice. Because Dyer is showing me a way ‘forward’ nevertheless. That its OK to lose your way, and even if you never find it again, you can still have peace. Dante’s purgatory need not apply. It may be a coward’s consolation, but …..I’ll take it. ...more
Good for the way it ends: just like in ‘les amants de pont neuf’, and not so good for the way it begins: just like Triers’ ‘Nymphomaniac’.
As to the dGood for the way it ends: just like in ‘les amants de pont neuf’, and not so good for the way it begins: just like Triers’ ‘Nymphomaniac’.
As to the denoument: a good book to read on the back of Geoff Dyer’s ‘Jeff in Venice, Death in Varnasi’. Where the narrative learns you (sic) that life is a pile of shite, and then...you die. Here, though, be an alternative ending: Find the pearl in the poo. Heres cheers to happy endings. As to the beginning: well sigh. Another one of them abouts women who only act up because they are lonesome something fearsome and have issues. By act up I mean being sexually explicit. The idea being that a happy woman (meaning she has snagged abloke and a white picket fence) can now finally pack up the Cleopatra Grip technique in favour of ...um...baking chocolate chip cookies? The only women who defy this seem to be the lesbians. I’m sorry, but its just the way it...seems...it is. Check out Edna St Vincent:
I, being born a woman and distressed By all the needs and notions of my kind, Am urged by your propinquity to find Your person fair, and feel a certain zest To bear your body’s weight upon my breast: So subtly is the fume of life designed, To clarify the pulse and cloud the mind, And leave me once again undone, possessed. Think not for this, however, the poor treason Of my stout blood against my staggering brain, I shall remember you with love, or season My scorn with pity, —let me make it plain: I find this frenzy insufficient reason For conversation when we meet again
Charlotte Roche’s Helen seems to be acting out due to lonliness incurred from the divorce of her parents. Yet another missed opportunity to assert female sexuality independent of some underlying emotional emptiness.
Charlotte Roche is playful, though. In this, her first novel, theres experimentation. Which is to say there is a tentative stretching of the boundaries (hers. Not mine), like a lion cub taking its first forays into game territory: bold and assertive but....not yet at its peak. Roche chooses scatology as her playground. She is going to wallow in, smear, imbibe, spray blood and excrement, thats what she is going to do.The problem is, it feels like she only knows her subject academically, with insufficient ‘on the ground’ experience. I say this because of how protag Helen, having described all these acts of ....willful..discharge.....all of a sudden seems to be racing half way through a hospital with her sphincter wide open trying to reach her lavatory before ‘busting one out’. What Roche lacks here, is MY experience of a M&S middle class toilet where a lady of middle eastern origin, faced with the long queue winding its way out and past the roche china bowls and starter sets, hoisted up her skirts and bent down and let one drop on the floor right in front of the row of sinks. Now, if she had witnessed this, as I have, she would not have had her protag runing around hospital floors in agonising pain after said person just plopped out tampons on the elevator floor just because it seemed like a good idea. Honestly, these amateur authors: Charlotte. Go the whole hog, please. Or let me tell you how to do it.
Still. Someone had to come out and write a novel about bodily fluids and functions. In all their wondrous dexterity. And charlotte Roche does step up to the task, with an appropriate degree of grossness. So credit where its due.