Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi

I'm not sure whether I need to take more time to process this book, but for a novel which came so highly recommended, and which has been accompanied by such sustained praise, I must admit, I'm a bit befuddled.

All right, I get the connections between the first part of Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi and Thomas Mann's famous novella; and OK, I recognize the overtones of Ginsberg, et al. in the second section, during which Jeff travels to India and experiences - in a rushed fashion, over the last 30 pages or so - a sort of deconstruction of the self.

But I guess I just don't fully get it: the novel felt fragmented to me, and if it's a book about the existence of a counterlife - or counterlives - then I'm not certain it was effective.

Sure, there were parts of this novel that I enjoyed (especially in Venice), but in the end, I saw it as two stories, really - and if they were related by way of their post-modern treatment of the self, its impossibility, and its eventual deterioration, then I missed that (or wasn't compelled by the message).

Plus, there's one last thing: is Geoff Dyer such a great writer? I mean, line by line, sentence by sentence, do his prose hold up? I quietly wondered this at times: because if the first half of the novel is a reworking of Death in Venice, then part of this reworking includes writing which borders at times on overly casual, even sloppy.


  1. I bemoaned that I had never been to Varanasi after reading this book, even though I am Indian, and I am travelling there in Nov :)
    I especially love the conversation with the goat towards the end of the book

  2. When the Cult of Geoff eventually dies (and it will), it will be a great boon for contemporary letters.