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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hugely memorable
First up, Geoff Dyer is a very talented writer - he's written art criticism, WWI history, literary biography, you name it. But the book he's best know for is, obviously, the brilliantly written (and titled, it's fair to say) short story collection Yoga For people Who Can't be Bothered to Do It.

I'll be honest, I wasn't convinced that Geoff Dyer could...
Published on 13 Aug. 2009 by John Fraser

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a novel
To describe this book as a novel is to mislead the prospective reader. It is a book in two halves - two novellas? I'd have to say not, as there is an almost total absence of plot. Without any coherent story to follow, I was surprised that I was not more bored. I was bored, obviously, but not as much as I'd have expected from the second half, which reads like a lengthy...
Published on 24 May 2012 by Sue


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hugely memorable, 13 Aug. 2009
First up, Geoff Dyer is a very talented writer - he's written art criticism, WWI history, literary biography, you name it. But the book he's best know for is, obviously, the brilliantly written (and titled, it's fair to say) short story collection Yoga For people Who Can't be Bothered to Do It.

I'll be honest, I wasn't convinced that Geoff Dyer could neccesarily take his wonderful short story writing style into the novel territory - it's fair to say that he's not big on plot development and narrative arcs - and arguably this book is, in fact, two novellas. There's no real plot to speak of and yes - the two halves do have very different tones.

However, to say there's nothing connecting them is strange. I found the two narratives flowed rather wonderfully from one to the other and - maybe I'm being far too literal here - I just read it as though they were about one and the same person. Two sides of the same story, in fact.

To suggest that this book isn't memorable seems a bit strange too, as many of the scenes, particularly those in Varanasi, are beautifully evocative and hugely visual. He writes wonderfully about the pace and mood of Indian life, the weird rituals and events that pass as normal in any given day in this extraordinary city. And the character's progression (or maybe regression) is compelling and pretty heartstopping.

It's fair to say that this won't be for all the fans of Yoga... but it's nonetheless a very rewarding experience. You'll be hard placed to find such an unusual and arresting piece of writing published this year.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written and keenly observed, 13 Sept. 2009
By 
Mingo Bingo "Mingobingo" (England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
I bought this book because I heard the author interviewed on the Litopia Daily podcast. In the gap between purchasing it and reading it I heard his name mentioned almost exclusively in conjunction with superlatives. The best writer practising in English today was one of them. Like a young Kingsley Amis was another.

To say I had high hopes is an understatement.

The writing is without doubt accomplished; the perfect mix between quick and easy to read, and intelligent and poignant. I don't think it deserves either of the two monikers above, but as a writer he is certainly impressive.

Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi is really two books.

The first part is a third person romp through the Biennale, as journalist Jeff Atman drinks and snorts his way through parties and exhibitions and enjoys a passionate but shallow affair with American gallery director, Laura. This section is very funny, often laugh out loud in it's grotesqueness and stays on just the right side of parody or whimsy.

The second is first person, as an unnamed journalist (I assumed it is still Jeff, but I could be wrong) becomes increasingly seduced by the madness of Varanasi. There is a lingering sadness to the second part of the book, and while still funny in parts it lacks the frenetic, almost farcical nature of the first part.

Based on Death in Venice by Thomas Mann, both parts of the book borrow themes and motifs from this classic Novella- unrequited love, the personality of places, and indeed it is Venice and Varanasi that are the real main characters here. Both are lovingly described in exquisite detail, both are decaying beauties, both are facades under which there is very little substance and yet both are revered as place of spiritually and culture.

The people are secondary, as too is the plot really, and it is the spirit of the two cities, so perfectly captured, that made this book such a pleasure to read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a novel, 24 May 2012
This review is from: Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi (Paperback)
To describe this book as a novel is to mislead the prospective reader. It is a book in two halves - two novellas? I'd have to say not, as there is an almost total absence of plot. Without any coherent story to follow, I was surprised that I was not more bored. I was bored, obviously, but not as much as I'd have expected from the second half, which reads like a lengthy travelogue, with almost nothing happening for over a hundred pages. I did however raise a smile at the hero's (I use the term loosely) determination to reach the ATM ahead of the queue jumpers. I continued reading because the cover (apart from announcing it as a novel) described it as `a beautiful story of erotic love and spiritual yearning'. It also said it was `playful, stylish, sensual, comic' and with this I would agree, though not with many of the other superlatives on the cover. However well written, for me, the absence of plot and characters with any depth made it an unsatisfactory read.
`Quite possibly the best living writer in Britain'? Oh dear, have all the real authors I know died?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great piece of fiction but...., 4 Dec. 2012
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This review is from: Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi (Paperback)
I thought this was an incredibly compelling novel and vividly written. I liked the way that it was split into two separate stories and the title was a fantastic teaser, and this fact alone kept me reading through the second half of the story - I did think, however, Varanasi was lacking the same sense of desire as the first. The characters in Venice, however, were wonderfully developed and I could almost touch Laura and, furthermore, I wanted to on many occasions. For the most part then the sex was actually well written! The only sense of lacklustre with this book came from the fact that I had purchased it from a website that currently isn't contributing its fair share of tax. This has not been a pleasant chaser - one feels robbed when they have enjoyed an experience that a crook has facilitated, however enjoyable. Thus, in summary, I would recommend buying this book, certainly. However, I would strongly urge any reader to consider the outlet from which they purchase it.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Pretty Dire., 24 Aug. 2009
By 
C. Nation "chrisnation" (Bristol UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
For starters, if you don't want to read two full-on descriptions of sex in thorough-going physiological detail, complete with dripping pudenda and a passing moment of urophilia, look away from this book now. Passages describing sex in this way are just like being faced with other people's holiday videos, only more so - an indulgence for them and very boring for you.

I like much of Geoff Dyer's writing. I found 'Yoga For People Who Can't Be Bothered To Do It' very funny. I found 'Out Of Sheer Rage' equally funny and also interesting, when he gets serious about Lawrence. 'Paris Trance' [fiction] was an amusing read but regrettably included my introduction to Dyer's predilection for urophilia, with which I could well do without. 'But Beautiful' was a genuine stab at revealing the magic of jazz.

One thing in Dyer's writing that is getting really tedious is the druggy stuff. The first segment of this book, set around the Venice Biennale Art Festival, includes Jeff [Dyer's alter-ego] getting stoned on weed and cocaine. Once again, one of the most boring things one can be faced with is another person's description of being stoned and what they did when they were stoned. The fact that the stoned person in this case is a fictional character is all part of the character's make-up, agreed. But if you have read all of Dyer's books, as I have and find he's still serving up this druggy stuff, in fiction and non-fiction [and this book is clearly based on Dyer's own life], time comes when one has had enough and wants to shout, "Grow up, Dyer! It's boring! We don't want to hear about it!" Dyer obviously thinks that descriptions of being drunk are also interesting, because the characters in the story spend the whole time revolving around Venice, from one party to another opening to another reception, necking endless Belinis and - oddly enough - beer. No mention of wine. Not a Barolo in sight.

He does touch on an important point in one of the descriptions of being stoned - there inevitably comes a moment every time one is stoned when one longs for the time when one is no longer stoned. It was this that made me quit smoking dope, aged 26. Dyer is 51 and may have given up drugs since recording the events in this book. If so, it will improve his writing, if for no other reason than we won't have to read banal accounts of Dyer or his characters under the influence of drugs.

There are two novellas in this volume. The two connections between them are the type-casting of the two main characters, Jeff Atman in Venice and `I', the narrator in Varanasi, as alter-egos of Geoff Dyer. The second is that the woman that Atman has a fling with in Venice tells him that she is going travelling in Asia, including Varanasi. At that point I was sure she'd reappear in the second section - it looked like Dyer had set this up, so it was surprising when it didn't happen.

It might have added some interest to the Varanasi section [despite the certainty of more gynaecological detail] because the narrator gives us no more than a word-picture of the riverside of Varanasi, with no added narrative. Just `Geoff' hanging out in Varanasi and gradually going native - he ends up loafing about in a dhoti, as opposed to loafing about in jeans. He gets stoned, naturally. Considering that this is supposed to be fiction, it's so devoid of most of the attributes of fiction as to be something else: faction, maybe.

The Venice section? See above. Parties. Belinis with mates from the London media/culture scene, sex, freeloading, hot weather, more Belinis, more sex and then girl leaves, boy mopes. Weather gets hotter.

This book won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic writing. The prize was a bottle of Bolly, 52 copies of the Everyman Wodehouse edition and having a Gloucester Old Spot pig named after the title of the book. Maybe it would have deserved these things if it had been comic. It isn't. In spite of Dyer's talent as a writer, it's facile, indulgent and boring.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An ill fitting wrapper around some weapons grade thinking, 26 Mar. 2014
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This book effectively contains two related novellas featuring the same protagonist, Jeff, a London arts critic and writer. The first half recounts a short assignment to the Venice Biennale, written in the third person. The latter half is a first person account of his elongated stay in Varanasi. Both halves riff on common themes, many of which relate to Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice.

I was sorely tempted to put this novel down having only read the Venetian segment, thinking that the best thing about it was the punning title. The art world that Jeff orbits is only slightly more superficial than his daytripper-level insight into the city. The references to Mann are there –the older man colouring his hair to recapture youth, the obsessive lust for a distant figure– but they only serve to illustrate that this novella is deeply reductive. There are some nice passages and amusing turns of phrase but it felt pretty lightweight and I found myself alienated by the insincerity of the characters and the affectations of the writer. Another north-Londoner writing about just how clever and cosmopolitan north-Londoners are, I thought.

I underestimated Mr Dyer. He plays on the same themes in Death on Varanasi but uses it as both a critique of the society he has already described and Jeff’s angst-ridden participation in it.

Relocating the themes to unreconstructed Varanasi allows Dyer to show just how synthetic Jeff’s concerns and passions were in Venice. The ennui and lust that enveloped Jeff when he was there may have echoed those of Mann’s Aschenbach but just as the city has over the 20th century become a theme park for those rich in money and cultural capital, so the people and their concerns are cartoons.

The revelation of little details in Varanasi, like Jeff’s lack of education in the classical arts, serve to skewer both Jeff and the society in which he has thrived. How can a man with no understanding of the history and language of art be a nationally recognised art critic? Relatively easily, when the art community itself values those things less than the parties and the international travel and, ultimately, the cultural cache of being part of that elite community.

Stripped of the consumerism and pretention of the first-world at the beginning of the 21st Century, Jeff undergoes a striking transformation in Varanasi far more redolent of Aschenbach. First world problems give way to issues of self and spirituality. The reader’s tolerance for this kind of introspection and the travelogue style narrative will very much decide how much they enjoy this half of the novel.

I’m deeply conflicted about this novel. I reacted deeply against its first half and found the conclusion unsatisfying. The plot is inchoate, the characters –with the exception of Jeff- are sketches and long passages feel like they’ve fallen out of a travel guide. Yet beneath this veneer is some weapons grade thinking about society, culture and their relationship with the individual.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Confusing, 26 July 2012
By 
J. Pierson "joe_pierson" (Essex) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I've had this before with Wild Palms, by Faulkner: I thought it was a novel, but it (as with the Dyer) is really two distinct novellas in one volume. The Faulkner had an introduction, so I was prepared. This didn't, so when novella two started I was expecting the previous story to resume. It doesn't. We could perhaps assume (though at no point are we clearly encouraged to) that the first person 'I' of the second section is the same 'he' of the first, but because absolutely no back-story at all is ever introduced into the second narrative strand, it seems kind of unanswered. It seems to me a strange decision to have made. I found it a confusing read.

The first section is really engaging and a pleasure to read- a free-lance journalist who doesn't like his job but is too lazy to do much about it (and who, besides, really enjoys these junkets and freebies) is reporting on the Venice Biennale, meets a woman he really hits it off with, and they have a fun couple of days together. Then she leaves and he's sad.

I was drawn by the frank and funny and swift prose enough to be excited by the start of part 2- Death in Varanisi. Which, for the first 50 pages, is a very sharp, smart travelogue about India. The kind of extended article you'd expect to read in The Sunday Times Magazine, maybe with AA Gill's name below the title. And, while I very much enjoyed it as an article (and it maintains that decent, journalistic balance of observation and personal involvement), I felt it disengaging, because it gives no insight into the narrator's feelings about the Venice episode (if, indeed, it IS the same person. If it's a consistent novel, as Dyer seems to represent it as (I think?) then shouldn't it? Or am I missing a trick?).

The problem was that although part 2 was funny and wise and sharply observed (the scene with the monkey and the sunglasses is very good, as is much else) I was turning page after page thinking, 'Is this the same guy? Are we going to get back to that first story?' It leaves the first story bereft. The second is a great piece of extended reportage. But it seems so distinctly unrelated to the first story that, on reflection, the first story ends up being just another tale about a fairly ordinary guy meeting a girl, having a fling and being sad that she had to leave.

The writing is great though. Say what you mean and say it straight. It's also reflective and insightful, and for that it makes perfect sense that he brings Maugham to mind and quotes him. Dyer writes really well, and the first part is a mildly diverting and engaging story, the second a perfectly fine and engaging travelogue. I just don't know why it's being marketed, sold and reviewed (by the press) as a novel. The attached press soundbites are laudatory. Plenty of shared Bellinis I guess.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What is it About?, 21 April 2012
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This review is from: Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi (Paperback)
I couldn't decide on 2 or 3 stars - should be 2 1/2 really but there isn't that option. This book is not really fiction, it's more a travelogue as the two cities (two of my favourites in the world which propelled my purchase)are the main characters and described in great detail although do we really need to know the name of every single vaporetto stop that Jeff gets on or off at?
I got through the first story - Venice - amusing but becoming tiresome with its endless round of Biennale parties with too much coke and booze. I decided that was the point.I'd read somewhere that Jeff's heart is broken but it isn't, at least not from the reader's point of view, he's just having a weekend shag. And what a shag it is - And people have said 'Last Tango in Buenos Aires" has a lot of sex - "Jeff..." is not for prudes.
When I got to Varanasi, I really lost interest. Nothing happens. Mr Dyer doesn't seem to understand the basic requirements of the arc of fiction. I had expected him to meet up again with the fling but she is never mentioned again (we don't know what happens to them after they leave for their respective abodes)and in Varanasi nothing happens other than his somewhat sarcastic fall into spiritualism (while staying at a luxury hotel).
Nothing holds these two novellas together other than their water and alleyways.
As for all those glowing reviews from super-famous folk, all I can say is it must be nice to move into authoring from journalism via the Groucho and have so many kindly biased friends.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Tale of Two Pities, 15 Jun. 2009
By 
Graeme Wright "book worm" (salford) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
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Geoff Dyer's latest book, with its two chapter free sections can be read either as two parts of one whole or as two separate novellas; the only discernable link between them is the setting - historically water-based cities which to a great extent take centre stage. Characters, of which there are many, appear almost as extras to the star billing of their surroundings.
In 'Venice' we find Jeff Atman, a disillusioned, world weary journalist - a hackneyed hack - reporting on the 2003 Biennale with its constant round of parties, junkets and drink (and drug) fuelled art exhibitions. He meets by chance the exotic and mysterious Laura and they embark on a brief, frenetic affair during their four day stay. Dyer, by his own admission, plays with his readers, borrowing quotes from other writers, inserting artists and their works like some fantasy exhibition organiser and even giving his namesake an ego-raising hair colour prior to his journey from London, an amusing tribute to Thomas Mann's Death in Venice. Jeff in Venice, in contrast, is by varying degrees a black comedy of errors, a Campari-bitter satire on the morals of modern art, a jaundiced travelogue for a decaying city and a tilted, cynical commentary on the foibles and frailties of life among the chattering classes. After all the bellinis and beers have been drunk, all the cocaine snorted and Laura on her way back to Los Angeles Jeff is seemingly alone and full of self pity on the bank of a canal, tempted by the stultifying heat to walk into the water 'as if it were a long and stagnant paddling pool'.
The second section, 'Varanasi' is told in the first person, our narrator being a journalist who has been commisioned by the Telegraph to travel to India and write an article about the holy city. While it is tempting for the reader to assume that this is an older, perhaps wiser Jeff setting off on a new assignment it is equally tempting to see him as a fresh character. Dyer, cleverly, offers few clues for us to make any definite connection. 'Varanasi' reads like some twisted hybrid of "Heart of Darkness", "Pincher Martin" and one of the more eccentric Rough Guides. Essentially it is a journal of one man's search for instant nirvana without the complications of birth and rebirth. That the narrator falls in love with the place, accepting the daily riverside cremations, the constant passing of death and decay says much about his need to free himself from the past. Taking up residence at the Ganges View Hotel he gradually abandons the trappings of his western-ness and his reason, having hair, eyebrows and beard shaved, wearing nothing but a dhoti, eating nothing apart from bananas and bathing in the Ganges. The ending is as hallucinatory as any since William Burroughs.
A flawed masterpiece, but masterpiece nonetheless, Dyer's book is alive with the sights, sounds and smells of both cities. It is a respectable salute to the author's knowledge and first hand experience of his locations, the prose flowing with all the colour and spectacle of Mother Ganges.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An unexpected pleasure, 18 April 2009
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I didn't expect to enjoy this book. I found myself bristling as I began it, uninterested in Jeff's superficial world and fearing a stereotypical sex-and-drugs story. But I persevered and became drawn to the narrator, his lover Laura and what happens between them. Dyer writes in such a way that you feel he's been following you around taking pictures of your life. He writes as they are, in a way you recognise. Reading this book, as The Telegraph said, is like finding you have made a new friend. I found myself nodding at certain points.

His description of his time in India is as vivid and lush as someone showing you their holiday photographs - but moreso. You can smell the air, hear the bustle, taste the food. As a novel it is a masterpiece, an example of exactly what can be achieved through the power of words. I was enraptured and read it in one sitting.

The two stories are a masterpiece based loosely on Death in Venice. They don't seem connected and yet if you read them separately you miss out on the parallels between them. The stories couldn't be more different - from the hedonistic holiday fling of Jeff in Venice to the beautiful yet chilling Death in Varanasi - yet each plays an important role in the other.

The book isn't perfect: the detail in the sex scenes is awkward to ther point of excruciating, and I skipped through the scenes with cocaine as they were dull and meaningless compared to the rest of the story. I never quite understood exactly what causes the narrator's meltdown in the second story but perhaps I didn't need to. I was desperate to reach the end of the novel to find out what happened yet reluctant to close it.
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Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer (Paperback - 1 July 2010)
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