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

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer
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's review
Nov 26, 2010

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bookshelves: venice

This came,as so many books do come, from a recommendation but whereas there is sometimes a need to politely skirt around the issue of how you enjoyed it or not because you don't wish to offend the 'recommender' I can say that I did enjoy this book. Its not the type I would normally have picked up to read but then that is the value of this website after all. Its a book in two parts in which firstly a cynical and lazy art journalist in Venice for the Biennale art festival who ironically appears to have no sense of the beauty of Venice or at least takes it totally for granted, encounters a beautiful woman there who reinvigorates him so as to enable him to see something wonderful in the world. The dialogue and images are sharp and powerful and Geoff Dyer gives us a sense of the decadence of the art world though perhaps he is another of the writers who appears to enjoy writing about people having sex without really needing to dwell in such detail as the accounts don't really serve to move characters or their relationships on at all. The next book, for it does appear to me as two distinct novels though linked by water in which in one the water is enclosed by canal walls and crumbling palaces and in the other by the natural banks of the River Ganges and crumbling Temples, has an unnnamed man, perhaps the same hero though this is never confirmed encountering the exotic and challenging world of Hinduism. The author, in his acknowledgements at the end of the novel disassociates himself from his hero's art criticism, I do wonder that he didn't do the same concerning his hero's attitude to India which is, certainly at the begiining of his coming to Varanasi dismissive and judgemental and by the end has become bizarre and verging on the insane. The two magical places of Venice and Varanasi are linked by their water, one as its foundations the other as its life blood, though life is probably not the word as Dyer continually shows the use of the Ganges for cremations and burials and is remarking regularly on the floating by of corpses of various species. They are also places of dramatic encounter. In the first the hero recaptures the ability to love and in the second perhaps his ability to live. It is an odd book but I love his turns of phrase. Here are four to be going along with;
' Jeff was relieved when, without warning, miles from where he'd left it earlier in the evening his hotel obligingly appeared '.
or again
' Anxious that even staring too hard at the glasses might cause cracks to appear, he tried to look at them gently '
or again
' Women in red and yellow saris flickered by like load bearing flames '
and finally
' Kites flew over the city like embers flaoting over a bonfire '
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