Sunday, April 25, 2010

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi – Geoff Dyer


Geoff Dyer was one of the authors who charmed the quaint city of Wellington with his presence during the Writers and Readers week a couple of months back. Add to that a catchy title and it was but little wonder that this book soon occupied the grand stands of every book store in Wellington. Not to be left behind I got a copy from the local library and was soon walking through the art galleries of Venice and trying to “find myself” in Varanasi.

Jeff Atman is a freelance journalist who loathes his job (well who doesn’t?), but for the sake of the fine bread and butter on his table goes about writing mindless articles. He lands up with an assignment to cover the Biennale art extravaganza in Venice. Jeff is going through an acute mid life crisis and his self-esteem has reached an extreme low point when he meets Laura, a mind blowing, beautiful woman, who is in Venice to promote the art gallery for which she works. Amidst the pomp and splendour of the Biennale adventure, and a lot of mindless parties Laura and Jeff find themselves enjoying each other (sometimes they even have conversations ;)) to a point of excess. Jeff starts to fall in love with Venice when the spiritual city of Varanasi beckons in the form of another assignment.

After the raucous adventure in Venice, he is confronted with an entirely different experience in the city of Varanasi. Surprisingly Jeff and Varanasi start getting along splendidly with each other and soon he is in search of himself in the crowded streets of Varanasi.

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi is an interesting book written in two parts which, other than the connecting thread called Jeff are entirely different. Geoff’s sense of humour is very apparent all through the book especially his accounts of life in Varanasi. The author deftly switches from third person narrative of events in Venice to a first person narrative in Varanasi. It is symbolic of Jeff’s journey from being a nobody to truly finding peace with himself. Geoff’s descriptions of  Varanasi, although coming from a westerner’s point of view are very accurate.

The part set in Varanasi started to resemble a travel guide of sorts after a while, but Geoff’s British humour more than made up for it. After some graphic descriptions of sex scenes in Venice, their absence was a bit conspicuous in Varanasi but they seem to go well with Jeff’s spiritual journey.

Jeff is Venice, Death in Varanasi is a good choice if you are looking for a book to crack up on but the reader has to be a bit patient in Varanasi.

Book Rating – 3.75/5

Book Stats:-
No. of Pages:- 296;
Year Published:- 2009;
Publisher:- Cannongate Books Ltd;
Book Setting:- Venice;Varanasi
Reading dates:- 10/Apr/2010 - 16/Apr/2010

Laughable Lines:-

“Anand was completely wrong about driving in  Varanasi. The traffic is not terrible at all. It is beyond any idea of terribleness. It is beyond any idea of traffic.”
You need three things if you are driving in Varanasi. Good horn, good brakes and good luck.”
Even the fake holy men- and I’d been warned by Jamal, that many of them were wholly fake – were genuine.

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After all the flamboyance of Venice and the hustle and bustle of Varanasi, join me in a ride through 18th century France in my upcoming review of Perfume:The Story of a murderer by Patrick Suskind.

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