Sometimes life is like a short story come to life. When I flew to London recently, I happened to sit next to a publisher named Jamie Byng who owns a company called Canongate Books. We both went right to sleep, but in the last fifteen minutes of the flight, we woke and started chatting. When he heard that I was working at a party in London, then an after-event for the Monaco Grand Prix, giving a perception lecture at the University of Parma’s Department of Neurosciences, and finally attending events at the Venice Biennale pre-parties, he started giving many ideas and suggestions. He is one of those old-school publishers who is the biggest fan of his own authors. As a result, he told me about one of his favorite authors named Geoff Dyer who had written a love story set at the Venice Biennale art fair. Then he suggested that I join him in his car from Heathrow to his company in Notting Hill, so he could give me a copy of the book. Well, that is what happened.
I carried that copy of Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi with me on the whole trip. Then in Venice, at a fancy party thrown by Dasha Zhukova, my friends Jan Rothschild and Jason Kaufman introduced me to their good friends Rebecca and… Geoff, a novelist. I immediately asked, “Wait, are you Jeff in Venice, Geoff?” He laughed and said “Well, yes I am!” It was a most magical meeting that he describes at the end of an article that appeared in the Guardian a few days later.
Here’s an excerpt:
It is impossible to say anything about Venice that has not been said before, says the eponymous hero in my novel Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi. Including that remark, replies Laura the woman he has fallen for, thereby completing Mary McCarthy’s self-reflexive observation in Venice Observed. Venice is more thoroughly surrounded by quotation marks than any other place on earth.
The dark water was dappled with lights from water taxis; it was beautiful, magical, romantic and full of promise, and the fact that I had already written up such a romance did not diminish this reality-remake of it at all. Then, through a daisy chain of introductions, we met a magician called Mark Mitton who, in spite of the jostling of the champagne-lashed crowd, produced a deck of cards and treated us to a display of close-quarters tricks. At one point he took my wife’s wedding ring from her hand, made it disappear and reappear half-a-dozen times until finally it vanished completely – only to show up again in a sealed envelope in my jacket pocket. The night had jumped out of quotation marks, as if by magic.