Sophia's Reviews > Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer
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Jun 05, 2011

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bookshelves: 2011, india, italy
Read in June, 2011

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi is like a novel with a cleaved spine. Trying to match the two halves takes some reader effort. The first half is a third-person account which follows Jeff Atman, an anxious, unhappy freelance journalist, as he goes to Venice to cover the Biennale art show. However, as for most of the attendees, it's an excuse to party, swill some Bellinis, and see and be seen. Jeff's trip is significantly enhanced by meeting Laura, an American woman, with whom he as a Bienale-long affair. Turn a few pages and the story moves on to Varanasi, India from a first-person perspective. A freelance reporter—who may or may not be Jeff—goes to write a story, but ends up staying for months, gradually becoming more and more accustomed to its rhythms and losing some of his emotional baggage.

It's hard to decide if Dyer has said anything meaningful by pairing the two accounts. Is Varanasi, a holy city on the banks of the Ganges, a watery twin of the City of Bridges? Has Jeff found the essence of the self? Although these questions of form are interesting to ponder, at times the reading is hard to get through but also hard to put down. Dyer does not write in chapters, lending a sense of continuity. Indeed, the first half is almost an organized stream of consciousness centered around Jeff's anxieties and extremely labile mood, whereas there is almost no plot in Varanasi, just flow. I can't decide if it's brilliant or really unstructured, but I enjoyed the descriptions of both cities.

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