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Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi: A Novelby Geoff Dyer
Synopses & Reviews
On an afternoon in June 2003, when, for a brief moment, it looked as if the invasion of Iraq had not been such a bad idea after all, Jeffrey Atman set out from his flat to take a walk. He had to get out of the flat because now that the initial relief about the big picture had worn off - relief that Saddam had not turned his non-existent WMD on London, that the whole world had not been plunged into a conflagration - the myriad irritations and frustrations of the little picture were back with a vengeance. The morning's work had bored the crap out of him. He was supposed to be writing a twelve-hundred-word so-called ‘think piece' (intended to require zero thought on the part of the reader and scarcely more from the writer but still, somehow, beyond him) that had reached such a pitch of tedium that he'd spent
half an hour staring at the one-line email to the editor who’d commissioned it:
‘I just can’t do this shit any more. Yrs J.A.'
The screen offered a stark choice: Send or Delete. Simple as that. Click Send and it was all over with. Click Delete and he was back where he started. If taking your own life were this easy, there'd be thousands of suicides every day. Stub your toe on the way to the bathroom. Click. Get marmalade on your cuff while eating toast. Click. It starts raining as soon as you leave the house and your brolly's upstairs. What to do? Go back up and get it, leave without it and get soaked, or . . . Click. Even as he stared at the message, as he sat there on the very brink of sending it, he knew that he would not. The thought of sending it was enough to deter him from doing so. So instead of sending the message or getting on with this article about a ‘controversial' new art installation at the Serpentine he sat there, paralysed, doing neither.
To break the spell he clicked Delete and left the house as if fleeing the scene of some dreary, as yet uncommitted crime. Hopefully fresh air (if you could call it that) and movement would revive him, enable him to spend the evening finishing this stupid article and getting ready to fly to Venice the following afternoon. And when he got to Venice? More shit to set up and churn out. He was meant to be covering the
opening of the Biennale - that was fine, that was a doddle – but then this interview with Julia Berman had come up (or at least a probable interview with Julia Berman) and now, in addition to writing about the Biennale, he was supposed to persuade her - to beg, plead and generally demean himself - to do an interview that would guarantee even more publicity for her daughter's forthcoming album and further inflate the bloated reputation of Steven Morison, the dad, the famously overrated artist. On top of that he was supposed to make
sure - at the very least – that she agreed to grant Kulchur exclusive rights to reproduce a drawing Morison had made of her, a drawing never previously published, and not even seen by anyone at Kulchur, but which, due to the fear that a rival publication might get hold of it, had acquired the status of a rare and valuable artefact. The value of any individual part of this arrangement was irrelevant. What mattered was that in marketing and publicity terms (or, from an editorial point of view, circulation and advertising) the planets were all in alignment. He had to interview her,
A New York Times Notable Book
A Best Book of the Year: The Economist, The New Yorker, San Francisco Chronicle, Slate.com, andTime
In Venice, at the Biennale, a jaded, bellini-swigging journalist named Jeff Atman meets a beautiful woman and they embark on a passionate affair.
In Varanasi, an unnamed journalist (who may or may not be Jeff) joins thousands of pilgrims on the banks of the holy Ganges. He intends to stay for a few days but ends up remaining for months.
Their journey--as only the irrepressibly entertaining Geoff Dyer could conjure--makes for an uproarious, fiendishly inventive novel of Italy and India, longing and lust, andthe prospect of neurotic enlightenment.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Jeff Atman is a British journalist on assignment in Venice who feels disillusioned with his hedonistic way of living, while a narrator in the Indian holy city of Varanasi practices detachment and meditates on art and spiritual matters.
About the Author
Geoff Dyer is the author of three novels, a critical study of John Berger, and five genre-defying books, including But Beautiful, which was awarded the Somerset Maugham Prize, and Out of Sheer Rage, which was a National Book Critics Circle finalist. He lives in London.
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