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Dazzling, wonderfully entertaining, extraordinarily reflective Dyer can write as beautifully as Lawrence and Proust, are just a small sample of the critics comments from the inside cover of this book. So why have I given it only two stars? Yesterday, when I finished it, my review might have read as follows: I have nothing to say about this book because I am unwilling to spend any more of my precious time trying to think of something to write that wont be too harsh and dismissive. Instead, I decided to sleep on it and see if a new day might offer me a different perspective and indeed today I did find some positive things to say. The book is full of literary and artistic references which I always find interesting but I do like them to have a purpose and I did not always understand their purpose in this novel. Direct references are made to Thomas Mann, Mary McCarthy (Dyer used the quotes from her very well), D H Lawrence, Henry James, Somerset Maugham and other writers too, but nothing much is made of the references. Dyer also refers to some Venetian artists, to Giorgione, although I failed to understand why he kept underlining the threatening storm in Giorgiones version of The Tempest, and to Tintorettos paintings in the San Rocco church which was one of the better bits in the book. He also mentions many, many contemporary artists. This is valid referencing since the first part of the book is set during a Venice Biennale but eventually the listing of names became boring. There were also some more veiled literary references, the most intriguing for me were the subtle evocations of Dante and his Beatrice, especially in the pieces about Isobel, in the second part. Considering all of this literary citation, I expected the writing to be more polished but instead I found it very variable in quality, even awkward at times, forcing me to reread some sentences in order to grasp their meaning. I didnt find the the story elements in the Venice section compelling in any way. The Julia theme might have been interesting but Dyer didnt develop it at all and by the end of the first half, I was ready to abandon the book but then the story veered off in a different direction, to Varanasi in India, this time with a first person narrator. Ah, I thought, now it will be interesting, especially since Id just read Damon Galguts In A Strange Room which has a section about India. Damon Galguts writing is part travelogue, part story and he is very good at weaving together fact and fiction without losing the reader through boredom or incredulity. Galgut isnt interested in plot as such but the reader quickly accepts this and follows the story wherever it leads because his writing is so good and his voice is so deeply human. I tried to apply this principle to Dyers Indian section as it seemed to be some sort of travel writing. I tried very hard to follow the narrator without question in his wanderings around Varanasi but Dyer kept throwing in plot hooks which distracted me and lead nowhere and the narrators voice sounded so banal, even smug at times. On several occasions, thinly disguised references were made to elements of the Venice section leading the reader to suppose that some connection would eventually emerge between the two. I didnt particularly need this connection to be made but Dyer did lead me to expect it. Instead he offered a different resolution. Not death as the title might suggest but a sort of living death, for the narrator, and for the reader. I was relieved when it was over.

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