Geoff Dyer writes books that defy easy categorization. But Beautiful is a series of slightly fictionalized vignettes based on photographs of American musicians. (It may also be the best-ever book about jazz.) Out of Sheer Rage is a book about Dyer’s inability to write a book about D. H. Lawrence (which is more gripping than you’d imagine it to be). Dyer’s latest is easier to classify but equally hard to put down: It’s a novel in two parts, and an excellent one at that.
Jeff in Venice takes place during that city’s biannual art fair and describes the lightning-quick love affair between Jeff Atman (a hack journalist) and Laura (an ingenue). It’s a dirty satire on a decadent scene, but it’s also wise, wistful, funny, and achingly sad. Death in Varanasi describes an unnamed pilgrim’s long stay in India’s holiest city. Slower and more lyrical, it may or may not be a description of Jeff’s life after Venice — or even his afterlife. Both halves owe something to Fitzgerald — the American writer whom Dyer (who is British) most closely resembles. But the end result is uniquely felt and deeply satisfying.
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