Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
After all the hype about this book, what with its winning some awards in Britain, and being touted as a very funny novel, I must say it rather disappoints me – but just a little.

If I compare this funny novel to, say, the one I’m reading right now, Marina Lewycka’s We Are All Made of Glue, I can’t say I was laughing as loudly.

The book is divided into two sections, and they can be so disparate that you can take them as two novellas. The first has the main character Jeff travelling to Venice to do a piece on the Biennale, a huge art exhibition. He hates his job; in the second half of the book he actually tells us he hates writing. That is why in the beginning of the story we see Jeff debating with himself whether to send off an email to his editor telling him in no uncertain terms he is not doing the assignment. But he doesn’t, and flies off to Venice, to get drunk, get drugged and get sexed. Yes, there are pages and pages of description of the latter. Quite graphic, too, so that I can tell you he will never win the bad sex writing award any time soon.

While the first section of the book comes off well as a narrative, the second half rather discards this and goes into travelogue gear. There is practically no plot here. All we read about is Jeff’s opinions about the filth pervading Varanasi. And to give Geoff the writer his due, yes, there are quite funny moments here: when a cow’s shit-encrusted tale slaps into his face and later he suffers the typical gippy stomach of a foreigner; when he and two fellow travelers imbibed some specially-made – if you know what I mean – lassi, and they wander around the place high, Jeff conversing with a goat.

In the Varanasi section, we see Jeff the character clearer, when Geoff the writer describes him as skinny and having greyish hair.  Just turn to the back flap of a picture of Geoff and you'll see, at once, that Jeff is somewhat autobiographical.

Even if I think it is not that funny, the book is still readable, especially the first section, and if you are resigned to the travelogue style of writing of the second half.

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