Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
Geoff Dyer, . . Pantheon, $24 (296pp) ISBN 978-0-307-37737-1
Two 40-ish men seeking love and existential meaning are the protagonists of these highly imaginative twin novellas, written in sensuous, lyrical prose brimming with colorful detail. In the first, Jeff Atman is a burnt-out, self-loathing London hack journalist who travels to scorching, Bellini-soaked Venice to cover the 2003 Biennale, and there finds the woman of his dreams and an incandescent love affair. The unnamed narrator of the second novella (who may be the same Jeff) is an undistinguished London journalist on assignment in the scorching Indian holy city of Varanasi, where the burning ghats, the filth and squalid poverty and the sheer crush of bodies move him to abandon worldly ambition and desire. Dyer's ingenious linking of these contrasting narratives is indicative of his intelligence and stylistic grace, and his ability to evoke atmosphere with impressive clarity is magical. Both novellas ask trenchant philosophical questions, include moments of irresistible humor and offer arresting observations about art and human nature. For all his wit and cleverness, Dyer is unflinching in conveying the empty lives of his contemporaries, and in doing so he's written a work of exceptional resonance.
Reviewed on: 01/12/2009
Genre: Pick of the Week