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Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi

3.46  ·  Rating details ·  3,084 ratings  ·  480 reviews
A wildly original novel of erotic fulfillment and spiritual yearning.

Every two years the international art world descends on Venice for the opening of the Biennale. Among them is Jeff Atman–a jaded and dissolute journalist–whose dedication to the cause of Bellini-fuelled partygoing is only intermittently disturbed by the obligation to file a story. When he meets the spell
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published April 7th 2009 by Pantheon (first published 2008)
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Average rating 3.46  · 
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Steven Godin

I read Geoff Dyer's Paris Trance back in 2015 and absolutely loved it. It was then probably my favourite novel by a British writer. This was going great too, up until the point when Geoff dumped Jeff on another Continent. Although a novel, it felt more like two longish novellas featuring the same character. I much preferred the first story to the second.
But overall Paris Trance walked all over this.

I'd break it down like this -

Jeff in Venice: Parties. Beautiful women. Sex. Coke. A feeling of e
'Dazzling', 'wonderfully entertaining', 'extraordinarily reflective' 'Dyer can write as beautifully as Lawrence and Proust', are just a small sample of the critics' comments from the inside cover of this book. So why have am I so unimpressed? Yesterday, when I finished it, my review might have read as follows: 'I have nothing to say about this book because I am unwilling to spend any more of my precious time trying to think of something to write that won't be too harsh and dismissive.' Instead, ...more
Apr 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
When 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 rea ...more
May 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, 2010_05_may
To be perfectly honest, I'm still not sure what to make of Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, but I know that I liked it. It seems to be a novel that illuminates how opposites not only are able to coexist but absolutely must exist to define the other. This book feels like a journey, for more reasons than the exotic locations, and what's more, it's a journey where it's perfectly fine to lose one's way a bit, to not always completely follow where it goes, or to suddenly be perfectly in tune with t ...more
Apr 01, 2012 rated it liked it
When I was younger, I'd often go to someone's cottage (everyone knew someone who had a cottage on the Finger Lakes) on July 3 for what was called the Ring of Fire: everyone with a cottage around the lake would make a big bonfire, big enough to see from across the lake. This was also an excuse to get rip-roaringly drunk and play lawn games and swim in the lake and zoom around in boats. Not that I was getting drunk; I was just a kid. My whole point here though is that these parties were inevitably ...more
Mar 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
Technically, this is my first Dyer and I liked it. That, in itself, would make it unlikable for an average reader.

The book is really two separate novellas: the first is the story of Jeff Atman, an aimless middle rung journalist in London who is assigned to cover the Venice Binneale to a ‘scoop’ interview around a story of prized nude photograph of a singer?

The action moves to very ‘otter’ than ever before Venice. Jeff, portrayed as somewhat of an outsider at the international art scene, trudges
May 25, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: english-lit, fiction
This is one of those books that makes me feel stupid. It’s made up of two interrelated novellas, the first of which follows an English reporter named Jeff as he covers the Biennale in Venice; the second finds a nameless English reporter, possibly the same man, losing himself in Varanasi. Both halves have moments of beauty, of occasionally wonderfully incisive description and even humor, and both also have their share of extreme WTF. The Venice portion, in particular, is full of lengthy and highl ...more
Jun 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
Oh, another guy book, but so freewheeling and acutely observed that there was no putting it down. Crucial in the Varanasi section was a paragraph admitting that the character lived in a special traveler/tourist/hippie space and had no real access to the intellectual and artistic life of the Indian city. So glad to see someone else citing Mary McCarthy's Venice Observed, and to read the conscious and loving echoes of Thomas Mann, Somerset Maugham, Vedas.
Kent Winward
Aug 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Two novellas juxtaposed on the theme of Eros and Thanatos. Dyer is delving into the world of Lawrence and Mann. (I'm going to have to go back and finish Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling With D.H. Lawrence). The surrender to the erotic and sensual climaxes in a feeling of death, while the descent into death and the human condition somehow ends up in the ecstatic. The conflicts and contradictions of the human condition are spectacular and like the burning corpse, Dyer managed to shove a stick into my ...more
Nathan Oates
Jun 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Three quarters of the way through this book I stopped to ask myself the question writers work hard to keep far from their readers' minds: why am I reading this book? Unlike most conventional novels, which aim merely to get the reader through to the end (a difficult task), Dyer's book provokes, even encourages this question. The "novel" is in fact two short novels that may, or may not, involve the same not-quite young freelance journalist, first during a trip to Venice, and second the Indian city ...more
Aug 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
And I was speculating what the dude version of Eat Pray Live would look like. Actually, he never made it to Indonesia, so maybe it was just Eat, Pray?
Jim Elkins
Mar 04, 2016 added it
Shelves: american
Popular Journalism and Travel Fiction

A breezy, superficial book, a combination of the English mortification and fretting in "Bridget Jones's Diary" and ordinary travel journalism.

What is the value, for fiction, of detailed, immediate, lightly fictionalized, fairly accurate reporting of unusual places? This book is divided in two: I have never been to Varanasi, so that half struck me as having been transferred as quickly as possible from experience to fiction, as if the details of the place would
Apr 06, 2009 rated it it was ok
Two novellas that don't really go together comprise this oddly-named book by Geoff Dyer. In Jeff in Venice, we witness the rather depressing scene of journalists and art critics gathering in that wet Italian city for the Biennale where they drink themselves silly (as if they need the help) and search for sex (successfully, as Mr. Dyer apparently likes to write about it).

Things slow down (or are less racy, at least) as we head to India for some travel writing about dirt, poverty, disease, and Hin
James Murphy
Jun 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having read Dyer's nonfiction before and aware of what a terrific writer he is, I'd been eager to begin this novel. But it took me a few days to get into it. I was confused by the first part, Venice, unable to decide what he was trying to do. But almost immediately after beginning the 2d section, Varanasi, I began to form an understanding and saw that the novel soars. It seems to be about duality. And about transformation. Dyer has written the 2 parts as the 2 sides of a coin. Venice is about li ...more
May 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Geoff Dyer is my new best friend (even though I don't even know him, I feel that I should). I was sad to see this book end. Ostensibly fiction, but half travel writing, Dyer's writing is smart, witty and clever. It made me laugh and made me ponder.

Jeff in Venice is a love story about a writer (Jeff, Geoff?) enjoying the Venice Biennial who has a love afair, the love of his life? Maybe. His description of Venice, the global art scene and the arty people who enjoy the finer things in life (in othe
Nov 17, 2012 rated it did not like it
After reading reviews of this novel, I understand that it is acclaimed as a high brow philosophical story. Unfortunately, it must have been too high brow for me because I did not enjoy this book at any level. It is actually 2 separate stories thinly linked by a couple of sentences that compares the similiarties between Venice and Varansai and an unsupported assumption that the unnamed narrator in the 2nd story is Jeff from the first story.

The first story is about journalists and artists attendi
Jul 03, 2009 rated it liked it
I was disappointed by this book. All the reviews I've read have been glowing. I was immediately put off by the imprecision of the language. A small criticism: one of the main characters is an American woman, but she uses subtle Britishisms, like ending sentences with "isn't it?" and saying "straight away" instead of "right away." Maybe it's petty to complain about, but I feel like the author has an obligation to at least have an American friend read it and catch those things.

Anyway, this book c
May 27, 2010 rated it liked it
I didn't enjoy it as much as Dyer's Lawrence book ('Out of Sheer Rage', which I snickered my way through) but still a good read. Dyer doesn't write 'plot' novels (based on the two I've read and also what he said in person himself when I went to see him talk recently so there). You kind of follow him along, seeing what he sees, thinking what he thinks. This books is in two parts - the first set in Venice, the second in Varanasi, India. Surprise! They are narrated by different characters, both are ...more
Bookmarks Magazine
Jun 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: july-aug-2009

A play on Thomas Mann's novella Death in Venice (1912), about a middle-aged male writer who seeks spiritual enlightenment in Venice but instead finds carnal doom in a young boy, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi is many things at once: a detailed, entertaining, travelogue; a philosophical treatise on mortality, materialism, and spirituality; and an inquiry into the nature of self. Dyer's "deceptively straightforward tale" (Oregonian)óinfluenced by Nietzsche, Roland Barthes, John Berger, and othe

Dec 23, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2010
Works well enough as travel writing, especially in the Varanasi part. But the detailed sex and drug descriptions in the first half of the novel seemed so adolescent in both content and style -- by middle age (both author and character) some things are better off evoked then minutely detailed.
I am beginning to mthink that, going ino the 21st century, Geoff Dyer may well be one of its literary giants. Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi is a strange novel, or is it two novels? The first half is about journalist Jeff at the Venice Biennale during a hot spell. There he meets an attractive woman named laura from Los Angeles, whereupon the two begin a short, torrid relationship. When Laura leaves for L.A., Jeff seems to wither away, without even exchanging addresses and phone numbers.

Mar 25, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting book and it is thought-provoking in many parts, especially the Varanasi section. Really could have been cut down, a lot of the Varansai section was not needed.
I'm in love with Geoff Dyer right now, but I can't explain why. The more he tells me about his drug-taking, aimless, despondent life, the more I like him. Maybe because he's more than what he tells me -- you can see it in the way he constructs a sentence, in his reverent echoes of other, greater authors, in his willingness to wear a dhoti on his pale, skinny Western frame and swim in the Ganges. If one weren't told that this book is a fiction, one might believe that Geoff Dyer really did these t ...more
Lee Klein
Jun 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
3.75 stars (vacilated for me between 4 and 3 stars but gets better as it moves along and ends well)? Feels absolutely real, or at least feels like his non-fiction. First section is in third person, second section is in first person, yet there's no real difference in how they feel -- or maybe it's about Jeff Atman dissolving into an I and then, after pooing a lot and soaking up the Ganges, transforming into goo-headed, guru-ish egolessness (dying hair in first section, unselfconsciously dressing ...more
Jay Daze
Feb 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 19, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Again, the more littered in praise by 'big names', and the larger the author's name on the front, I find the book disappointing.

It's a book in two halves which are, to me, in no way connected, other than the same bloke is in both of them.

The Venice half is ok, at least there's a plot (man drinks, man meets woman, man and woman have sex, do drugs and get drunk, woman leaves). In the second half of the book, in Varanasi, it's just the bloke, wandering aimlessly around, describing the filth and pe
Alex Roberts
Jun 08, 2009 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, india
A strange and fascinating novel of sex and death set in two very different but curiously connected locations of Venice and Varanasi. The Venice section is written almost in the manner of Brett Easton Ellis involving as it does much name dropping brand logos drinking and drug taking interspersed with beautiful glimpses of the light and waterways of Venice. There is towards the end of the section an elaborate set piece in which Jeff views Tintoretto's great ceiling paintings through a mirror on wh ...more
Sep 07, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommended to Angie by: Very Short List
Geoff Dyer has such an interesting way of seeing the world and expressing it in a clever way. It really is like 2 books. The only thing connecting the two is the main character, Jeff.
Some of my favorite lines include:
"Dying is an art like everything else. We do it exceptionally well. We do it so it looks real." and that is how the author covers his grey-like Sylvia Plath
Also after much waiting for so many things, "At what point would the longing for things to be over be over so that he could res
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Geoff Dyer was born in Cheltenham, England, in 1958. He was educated at the local Grammar School and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He is the author of four novels: Paris Trance, The Search, The Colour of Memory, and, most recently, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi; a critical study of John Berger, Ways of Telling; five genre-defying titles: But Beautiful (winner of a 1992 Somerset Maugham Prize ...more

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