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

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer
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Jul 26, 2009

it was ok
Read in July, 2009

I did not understand this book. And based on some preemptively defensive reviews of others, I would not get this book if I had not read Mann's Death in Venice, Mary McCarthy's book on Venice, or all of Vedic scripture. Well, I haven't read any of those, and I did not get this book. I read the whole thing, but I think I was just waiting for something to happen.

The structure was very strange: the first half of the book follows the protagonist, a British journalist, to Venice, where he covers the Biennale art festival. The dude parties a lot, looks at art he doesn't seem to care much about, and he meets and has lots of raunchy sex with a woman he cares about a lot. She drops a hint that she's moving to Varanasi, in India.

Cut to the second half. Same dude gets an assignment in Varanasi. We figure he's going to run into this chick, right? Maybe there will be a murder or something (judging from the title), and the reunited couple will solve it together, riding off into the sunset.

Boy could I not have been more wrong. Homespice writes his story about the death pyres of Varanasi (hence the title, I now suppose), changes his flight back to London into an open-ended ticket, and then proceeds to go slowly crazy in this town that he appears to have no intention leaving. By the end, he has shaved his head and eyebrows, and walks around town in a dhoti, having spiritual epiphanies. I mean, a character is supposed to make some sort of progress or have a kind of realization within the trajectory of a novel. But for us to watch a middle-aged British journalist go from doing rails of coke in Venice, to sitting on the banks of the Ganges, staring placidly into the eyes of yogi for hours on end with no real explanation... well, the whole thing eludes me. I did read Mann's Magic Mountain, and this protagonist's stay in Varanasi smacks of the sanatorium in the Alps. But the homage carried no message, no purpose.

I will say though: the prose was good. Wry, witty, and lyrical in a brusque, urban kind of way. Maybe that's the only reason I read it all the way through.
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message 1: by Berkeley (new)

Berkeley great review, meg!


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