Wednesday, July 07, 2010
I came across Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi in a review in the NYRB; this was more than a year back, and I'm only now getting to it, because my reading habits have moved more heavily to periodicals of late. But that might change because Geoff Dyer's little book excited me to pick up novels again, even though it's less a novel than it is two novellas featuring the same central consciousness/narrator.
Of course when a writer named Geoff creates a narrator named Jeff the reader must suspect that a lot of what happens on the page is actually Geoff--well, of course it is, since he wrote it--but you know what I mean, I hope. At any rate, the first novella is Jeff in Venice. Jeff is a freelance journo who travels around penning 1200 word articles about whatever he's hired to travel around and write about. Jeff goes to the Biennale in Venice on behalf of Kulchur magazine to see art and to interview a famous model whose daughter with a famous artist is releasing a CD. Jeff makes acerbic and witty comments about the art, about the people who attend such events as the Biennale. He does drugs, drinks heavily, only partially fulfills his obligations to his employer, and his POV is not dissimilar to characters out of Brett Easton Ellis or Michel Houllebecq. He becomes more well-rounded and human when he falls in love and has an affair with young Californian. There is much fine description of Venice along the way.
Then Jeff is off to Varanasi, or Benares, and instead of Houllebecq we get Herman Hesse. Jeff has a sort of spiritual crisis and ends up enthralled by the ancient city on the Ganges and its burning pyres of corpses, its landscape and characters out of Bosch, its thieving and contemptuous monkeys. Again, there is wonderful travelogue of the city. And Jeff loses himself and stays far past his intended four days, and perhaps immanetizes the eschaton.