By his own admission, Geoff Dyer likes to play in the skinny inch between literature and reality, fiction and verity, to twist surprise and manipulate the expectations both of his audience and his genres, and one suspects his own self.
This much might be obvious from an author called Geoff who’s a writer writing a lead character called Jeff who’s also an author – it’s a bit obvious, but in very intriguing ways also not.
I guess this makes it clever.
“Jeff in Venice – Death in Varanasi” is the latest book from the author of “Yoga for People Who Can’t be Bothered” (2004), and “Out of Sheer Rage: In the Shadow of D.H.Lawrence” (2003), both of which generally deal with misadventure and frustration with projects that sort of fail on an epic existential scale.
The book is comprised of two very strongly contrasting but very closely interwoven novellas; the first dealing with the wild drug fuelled excesses of the Venice Bianale Arts Festival, the other with the deep privations and destitution of the Indian city of the Dead.
The echoes between the stories may at fist seem feint but, as the author himself points out in the Radio National interview below, they will become much clearer if you read the book one and a half times: read the 1st book, then the 2nd book and then re-read the first again.
The effect is both discombobulating and satisfying at the same time. It’s as if by plucking at two such discordant notes in just the right way the effect is a harmonious counter-point. Or something.
If you don’t believe me, here is the NYtimes review.
In this interview, the author reads sections from each of the books and talks with ABC Radio National’s The Book Show about “Jeff in Venice – Death in Varanasi”.
Geoff Dyer on The Book Show - 36 mins 12 secs - 16.7mb
And for a further taste of the man in spoken form, here is an interview from 2003 on the Identity Theory website in which Geoff talks about being less conventionally categorisable, the trends of literary criticism and the way writers tend to write about other writers. He shares personal views on how he writes himself, his process and how he still struggles to identify what sort of a writer he actually is.
He’s an interesting thinker and is plainly a man at home with his words – he uses them well. He’s lazy and at best claims he is striving for the status of respectable drop out.
And here is our man addressing the enticingly titled “Shoreditch House Salon”, reading to what sounds like a room full of fairly young people who are desperate to laugh at anything [warning: this reading contains some fruity references]