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 party-going is only intermittently disturbed by the obligation to file a story. When he meets the spellbinding Laura, he is rejuvenated, ecstatic. Their romance blossoms quickly, but is it destined to disappear just as rapidly?
Every day thousands of pilgrims head to the banks of the Ganges at Varanasi, the holiest Hindu city in India. Among their number is a narrator who may or may not be the Atman previously seen in Venice. Intending to visit only for a few days, he ends up staying for months, and suddenly finds a hitherto unexamined idea of himself, the self. In a romance he can only observe, he sees a reflection of the kind of pleasures that, willingly or not, he has renounced. In the process, two ancient and watery cities become versions of each other. Could two stories, in two different cities, actually be one and the same story?
An irrepressible and wildly original novel of erotic fulfillment and spiritual yearning, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi is dead-on in its evocation of place, longing, and the possibility of neurotic enlightenment.
©2009 Geoff Dyer (P)2010 Blackstone Audio
“A vigorous mash-up of satire, romance, travelogue and existential treatise…his best yet.” (Time magazine, “The Top 10 Everything of 2009”)
“A raucous delight…Very funny, full of nerve, gutsy and delicious. Venice will never be the same again!” (Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient)
I've been a Geoff Dyer fan for years and I hit a wall of disappointment listening to "Jeff in Venice". I couldn't figure out why the text even existed. Who could care about the sex life and gorged ego of the lead character? There is little reason to read this first half of the book although I forced myself to finish it.
"Death in Varanasi" is a fresh start with the same, or similar, character. Only one problem with "Varanasi." The narrator doesn't know how to pronounce the name of the city. It drove me wacky listening to him mispronounce it over and over again. Finally, I learned to ignore his pronunciation and fell deeply into the story. This is a great tale of "neurotic enlightenment." I started listening to "Venice" again after finishing "Varanasi," but it still wasn't worth the time. I listened "Varanasi" again and fell into it with a new level of comprehension. This is a great short novel. Five stars for "Death in Varanasi" minus one star for pronunciation. No stars for "Jeff in Venice." Simply ignore it.
This recording annoyed me. Especially while listening to the first half, I often couldn't make out consonants at the beginning and end of words. It took a lot of attention to fill them in retrospectively, when I understood the sentence, which made it difficult to listen while driving. I was straining to make out the words--was that "whole," "home," "hone"? "Bone," "phone," "moan"? This seemed more perverse given the play on consonants in the title, with its allusion to Mann's "Death in Venice." I can think of a few causes of the muffling. First, Mr. Vance, who is an accomplished narrator of many other books that I've enjoyed, sounds tired, and maybe lacking energy to articulate fully. Maybe it was the equipment that couldn't pick up changes in volume, or had too thick a windscreen fitted to it. Or, most annoyingly, it sometime seemed that the garbling was being done on purpose, as if someone warned Vance not to pop his P's and so he was holding back on sounding any consonants. Whatever. It bugged me.
That said, the book is smart and funny, like other Dyer books I have read. Dyer has a way of teasing out absurdities in modern cultural events (like the Venice Bienniele (sp?)) and in his own modern take on culture. Part 1 describes a brief romance of British journalist "Jeff" with an American art-gallery operative. In Part 2, Jeff goes to Varanasi, a city on the Ganges where Hindu funeral rites are performed. At heart, Dyer himself is a journalist or memoirist or travel writer, or some combination of all three, not unlike his hero D.H. Lawrence in some of his books, and the plotting of each part seems adventitious and casual. He wants to write about Venice and India more than about characters. I was not pleased by the descriptions of sexual encounters in Part 1, but maybe that's me. I've always wanted to visit India, but after imagining the squalor as described in Part 2 of the story, I'm not so sure.
I do like Dyer, and I like Vance's work elsewhere. They're neither at their best here.
Nothing but a boring travel log. No story line what so ever. I can't believe an editor approved this for publication. Total waste of time. I never could figure out what the author was trying to convey. It was nothing but ramblings about two different cities. The author must have been on drugs when he wrote this.
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