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Contents

  1. Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil - review | Books | The Guardian
  2. Narcopolis Summary & Study Guide
  3. Muswell Hill Bookshop
  4. Not the Booker prize

Bombay, Chowpatty, riots, the pathaar maar killings; gender identity, disguises, reinventions of self; poverty, pain, uprootedness, flux; slow afeem opium and fast garad heroin; art, religion, poetry, reincarnation, spirits; stories within stories within stories like Russian dolls; violence, sex, corruption, blackmail, murder. The narrator is proud and amazed to be able to bring Xavier, the artist, to the opium den where Dimple lovingly prepares the pipes. He and Dimple have recently looked at pictures of his work in a magazine, and now here he is in person, isn't that incredible?

Dimple shook her head once. There was nothing incredible about it, she said. I thought it was so because I spoke English, because I read books, and because my parents paid for my education and my upkeep. For me everything was surprising, the world was full of wonder, the most random idiotic occurrence was incredible because my luck made it so. For people like her, for the poor, the only incredible thing in the whole world was money and the mysterious ways in which it worked. She's right, Xavier said.

Only the rich can afford surprise and or irony. The rich crave meaning. There's a warning there, to those of us who speak English and read books and whose parents paid for our education. We're going to find it hard to make sense of this fictional world. View all 12 comments. This is a book about drugs, sex, death, perversion, addiction, love, and god, and has more in common in its subject matter with the work of William S.

Above all, it is a fantastical portrait of a beautiful and damned generati Above all, it is a fantastical portrait of a beautiful and damned generation in a nation about to sell its soul. A cast of unforgettably degenerate and magnetic characters works and patronizes the venue, including Dimple, the eunuch who makes pipes in the den; Rumi, the salaryman and husband whose addiction is violence; Newton Xavier, the celebrated painter who both rejects and craves adulation; Mr. Lee, the Chinese refugee and businessman; and a cast of poets, prostitutes, pimps, and gangsters.

Those in their circle still use sex for their primary release and recreation, but the violence of the city on the nod and its purveyors have moved from the fringes to the center of their lives. Yet Dimple, despite the bleakness of her surroundings, continues to search for beauty—at the movies, in pulp magazines, at church, and in a new burka-wearing identity. After a long absence, the narrator returns in to find a very different Bombay. Those he knew are almost all gone, but the passion he feels for them and for the city is revealed. I didn't have it to give. There's a weird and wonderful book in here.

I am too tired to go look for it. That afternoon, Rashid took Dimple to a room on a half landing between the khana and the first floor, where his family lived. There was a wooden cot, a chair and washstand, a window with a soiled curtain. She knew what he wanted. She took off her salvaar and folded it on the back of the chair.

She lay on the cot and puller her kameez up to her shoulders to show him her breasts. Her legs were open, the ridged skin stretched like a ghost vagina. He said, you're like a woman. She said, I am a woman, see for yourself. Dimple, you see, is a eunuch, not a woman, and I am sorry if it offends, but mens is mens and gurlz is gurlz in my universe, no matter they say they're not. Transphobic of me, I suppose. I'd remind those who coined that term for us'ns who don't like to make that particular leap of the fact that there is no obvious link between same-sex sexual attraction and gender dysphoria.

I am not unhappy I am a man, I am delighted by it; and having experienced the very meager joys of heterosexuality out of bed, in bed's perfectly adequate if predictable and unexciting , I am rapturously homosexual. I don't see how this in any conceivable! No one seems prepared to do more than snort angrily at me when I say this. Explanations aren't forthcoming. C'est ma vie. So these factors combine to make this well-written and most interesting story a non-starter for me.

In another mood, perhaps I would've gone with it and found its unique beauties more positively interesting and less snort-and-eyeroll inducing. Considering how very many books there are awaiting my attention, I suspect I won't be coming back to this one. Sep 30, Jenny Reading Envy rated it it was amazing Shelves: location-india , read , around-the-world , booker-winners-and-listed. Another one from the Booker shortlist. Publisher summary: Shuklaji Street, in Old Bombay.

Hookers call for custom through th Another one from the Booker shortlist. When the first chapter was one seven-page sentence, I wasn't sure what I had gotten myself into, exactly. It turns out that was the perfect introduction to the drug-riddled world of this book. The writing was compelling, and I enjoyed the way the world was slowly explored, all centering around one opium den and later, heroin den , following tangents of seemingly minor characters all leading back to the central place.

I never knew where it would head next, and this style allowed for multiple perspectives of Rashid, who owned the place through his landlord, son, everyone except his wives, which would have been interesting ; and Dimple, the eunuch who prepares the pipes through her older Chinese lover, among others.

The story starts out in the Bombay of the s, and moves all the way up through with some of the characters.

Jeet Thayil reads from Narcopolis

And I suppose if you count Mr. Lee's own story, it also includes the China of his childhood.


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The poor don't ask questions, or they don't ask irrelevant questions. They can't afford to. All they can afford is laughter and ghosts. Then there are the addicts, the hunger addicts and rage addicts and poverty addicts and power addicts, and the pure addicts who are addicted not to substances but to the oblivion and tenderness that substances engender.

She explains addiction in a different way: "There are so many good reasons and nobody mentions them and the main thing nobody mentions is the comfort of it, how good it is to be a slave to something, the regularity and the habit of addiction, the fact that it's an antidote to loneliness, and the way it becomes your family, gives you mother love and protection and keeps you safe It isn't the heroin that we're addicted to, it's the drama of the life, the chaos of it, that's the real addiction and we never get over it; and because, when you come down to it, the high life, that is, the intoxicated life, is the best of the limited options we are offered - why would we choose anything else?

There are moments throughout the novel where violence traps the characters inside, although they don't really seem to mind. A few other tidbits I liked: This is a taxi driver who has been taking an opera singer around town. I think it gives a good example of the tone and the writing: " That's when she tells me to open the sunroof and she starts to sing, and all of the sudden I got it, you know?

The function of opera, I understood that it was the true expression of grief. I understood why she needed to stand and turn her face up as if she was expressing her sadness to god, who was the author of it. And for a moment I understood what it was to be god, to take someone's life and ash it like a beedi. I thought of her life, her useful life, and I wanted to take it from her for no reason at all.

It looks like he is otherwise known as a poet. View all 10 comments. May 13, Lit Bug rated it liked it Shelves: fiction , literary , novels , asian , indian , historical-fiction , owned. Set in the city of Bombay and spanning a time-frame from s to as we listen to the narrator, just back from the U. The novel starts with a 7-page sentence as we see the narrator cruising through the city, and sets the tone for the rest of the work - its themes of drugs, addiction, exploitation and survival in a city where everyone fends for oneself.

The sheer brilliance of the one sentence that captured a myriad images of Bombay into a cohesive picture of its under-belly perked up my expectations. But after the novelty fades off, well, it was quite disappointing. What started as an assemblage of pictures didn't go further into anything - no character-development, no plot-development, and though the city of Bombay itself was its protagonist, instead of the setting, there was no visible Bombay-development. I didn't mind the non-linear narrative or the lack of a uni-directional plot.

I found the characters to be mere caricatures, lacking depth. Often I felt I was reading the book-version of the movie 'Slum-dog Millionaire' - a movie that apparently had no aim apart from displaying its poverty, cruelty, filth and underworld to vicarious foreigners, but apart from that, having little value as literature. I thought he was attempting to write like Rushdie - a mixture of cultural irreverence and political sarcasm delivered with a careless flourish that shocks the reader, all the while being bluntly truthful. But nor did the supposedly sharp knife slash through my sensitivity, nor did it its soft edges give a worthwhile result.

Too many ruminations that had nothing to do either with Bombay or with the characters, that were not poignant as observations into a city or a culture or its time-frame. The period he has chosen is such a vast one, with many important political events taking place that had both local and national consequences, and all the while, he simply eschewed them all, as if they didn't matter - if they had been alluded to, well, the work would have been far richer.

After all, the novel was supposed to be about Bombay - and what we get instead are sensational pictures of a part of Bombay - but not alluding to real life apart from that. What do I feel at the end of the book, then? Disinterested and Disappointed. View all 8 comments. Oct 28, Shanmugam rated it it was ok. Narcotic Nonsense When Mr.

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Thayil started working on this debut novel, he was around fifty years old, had released four collections of poetry, two decades of addiction under his belt. So, it has all the intellectual questions he had or heard and almost all the things he came across in Bombay. More than a novel, it is a handful of short stories and a few essays of Mumbai's dark alleys. To give credit where it is due, whenever the narration is in descriptive nature, whether it is Shuklaji Street, Op Narcotic Nonsense When Mr.

It is only when his characters start to voice their thoughts, you feel that cardboard cutout, one dimensional creations of a amateur fiction writer, like puppets created with sculpture like perfection, only to echo a puppeteer's monologues. Excellent in parts, disappointing as a whole! A very strange book indeed. In fact, I'd say I've never read anything like it before. Jeet Thayil's Booker-nominated novel starts out in Bombay of the s, when the narrator Dom Ullis arrives in the city, having been deported back to India from the States on account of his substance abuse problems.

While most of the book follows a linear narration, there is a slight detour to China in Book Two 'Story of the Pipe' when the story of Mr. The fascinating aspect of 'Narcopolis' is the hallucinatory yet realistic narration. Sounds bit like Inception? It certainly isn't anything remotely similar But the style certainly ensures that the characterisation is top-notch as one gets to delve into the deepest, darkest recesses of the minds of the different characters. It's not entirely core to the plot, but is engrossing nonetheless.

However, where this book doesn't work for me is the disconnect I felt with the characters. This is one book that's gonna grow on you over time. Recommended for fans of literary fiction. Sep 30, Ali rated it it was ok. The writing is good - in places very good, lovely prose —something I always enjoy — you might expect that at least I suppose in a Booker shortlisted novel, but the subject, the setting and the characters I disliked. An addict, if you don't mind me saying so, is like a saint. What is a saint but someone who has cut himself off, voluntarily, from the world's traffic and currency.

The narrator of the start of the novel, a visitor to the Opium den of Rashid, where he also meets the eunuch prostitute Dimple, he returns at the end of the novel, many years later to see who is left and find out what has happened to the people he knew back then. The construction of the novel is more like many small stories that weave in and out of each other in a non-linear way.

I did find the stories of Mr Lee and Dimple to be the most interesting, and for a while after struggling with the beginning of the book I began to actually enjoy it. However I found it difficult to remain interested in the characters and the construction of the novel made it hard at times to follow. This construction is very clever — this dream like almost hallucinatory quality is beautifully suited to these stories — the narratives seem like the confused and foggy view of an opium addict might look.

I had looked forward to this book — and judging by the reviews of it on good reads and amazon I am something of a lone voice. View 2 comments. Sep 09, Lisa rated it really liked it Shelves: india , c21st. This tale from the underbelly of s Bombay is about as squalid as it can get.

The book begins as he returns to it after an absence, introducing the reader to Dimple, named not because she has one, but after a famous Indian film star. The irony is painful. There is obviously more to know about the porous borders of Asia! Thayil returns to this character again and again, revealing more about her life each time. These characters are not victims in the usual sense: they make choices and they have autonomy in some areas. But the story of how Dimple came to have ambiguous sexuality is not for the faint-hearted. The way people are used in this novel, as if they have no intrinsic value except for the purposes of their abuser, is a reminder that for the poor in places like this, the choice they have is to accept how things are.

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  1. Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil - review!
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Aug 22, Vinita rated it it was ok. I was really looking forward to reading Narcopolis. Jeet Thayil was himself an addict for 20 years, and the book is an insider's account of Bombay's drug scene. That Thayil is an excellent writer is apparent in the first few pages. His style though, is gratingly monotonous. The writing can only hold your attention for so long. Ultimately the plot and the characters need to generate enough interest to make you want to carry on.

I finished Narcopolis and realized that I felt nothing about any chara I was really looking forward to reading Narcopolis. I finished Narcopolis and realized that I felt nothing about any character. That, I think, is Narcopolis' biggest failing - after the first 50 or so pages of a few "wow" moments, it simply fails to evoke any emotion. The characters show a lot of promise in the beginning, but in the absence of a good back story, they fizzle out. You're given just a few tidbits of information about their past. It's like looking out of a foggy window - you never really see or "get" them.

In a nutshell Narcopolis is well written, but not compelling enough. Alas, a good writer is not always a good storyteller. View all 5 comments. May 05, Sridhar Reddy rated it really liked it Shelves: fiction-prose.

Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil - review | Books | The Guardian

Three and a half stars. Jeet Thayil's 'Narcopolis' contains some of the most vividly realized characters I've ever come across in a book. Deeply felt and complex, they each weave in and out of reality and consciousness, bound by an endless stream of narcotics and the den that serves to encapsulate the crushed ambitions of a city full of dreamers. Thayil's prose is both poetic and raw, his wordplay masterful and yet his subject matter abhorrent.

It's a vivid juxtaposition that mirrors the drug ex Three and a half stars. It's a vivid juxtaposition that mirrors the drug experience - lucid in thought and yet surrounded by detritus. Perhaps my greatest criticism of the book is its omission - there is the mention of a murderous, destructive force called the Pathar Maar, a killer of the poor and voiceless. The Pathar is an intriguing figure, perhaps a metaphor for the city itself, and yet Thayil mentions the Pathar in only three sentences in the entire book.

Narcopolis Summary & Study Guide

It is an incomplete thought, and to leave the reader hanging with such a powerful image and concept is a little disconcerting. Otherwise a powerful and experiential book. Not for the faint of heart, as Thayil reveals and shows every detail of the lives of junkies, pimps and prostitutes. The depiction is, however gruesome, overall respectful, as Thayil never once portrays his characters as victims.

They are accountable for their decisions, and never are we manipulated to feel pity.

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Highly recommended. Sep 29, Elaine rated it really liked it Shelves: This book snuck up on me -- I didn't really like the beginning -- there was some pretentious stuff about art and religion that didn't really work for me, and writing the surreal dreams of the drugged needs to be done exceptionally skillfully or it just reads as self-indulgent and annoying. But after a rough beginning, I got sucked in -- the episodes in China were great, and Dimple, Rumi and Rashid emerge as strong, fascinating characters, and the host of supporting characters are also compelling This book snuck up on me -- I didn't really like the beginning -- there was some pretentious stuff about art and religion that didn't really work for me, and writing the surreal dreams of the drugged needs to be done exceptionally skillfully or it just reads as self-indulgent and annoying.

But after a rough beginning, I got sucked in -- the episodes in China were great, and Dimple, Rumi and Rashid emerge as strong, fascinating characters, and the host of supporting characters are also compelling.


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  • Although largely episodic, there is a plot, and a heroine Dimple , if not really a hero, and it is worth waiting for those to emerge. The writing is lively and occasionally limpidly piercing if at other times a bit too taken with itself. While I thought dismissively at the beginning that I'd stumbled across a derivative Indian Trainspotting, this book while obviously influenced by Trainspotting is actually far richer and nuanced than its predecessor. With every book you read, you can always find something that went wrong - something you didn't like.

    When I read Narcopolis, I couldn't find any wrong. The book had me hooked from the first paragraph. I remember being tired. I had comeback from a long day at work and I had hardly slept the night before. I was ready to sleep at I read the first page and suddenly, it was 1. I now feel like I need to consume everything that Jeet Thayil has written.

    Aug 11, Damien D'Enfer rated it it was amazing. After reading some of the reviews below I feel compelled to add my two cents. This may not be a pretty world Thayil creates, but guess what? Worlds like this exist. I should know. Thayil writes about the desperation, enslavement, degradation, beauty and poetry of the addict's life with mastery. Bu After reading some of the reviews below I feel compelled to add my two cents. But the thing that makes Narcopolis extraordinary is the compassion he applies to his characters. Addicts are the ultimate outsiders. They scratch around the perimeters of life, seeking redemption and connection.

    I'm surprised by the lack of care and imagination in some of the reviews below. Did Thayil upset some's expectations of 'normal' and 'acceptable'? Since when should artists adhere to those ideas? My advice is, open your hearts and minds and let Thayil show you another side of life. It's not all ugly, trust me. Aug 10, Megan Baxter rated it really liked it. I wonder if it is that to get a book published when you're an Indian ex-pat author, it needs to be really, really good.

    I suspect that may be the case, but I have to say that by far and large, the books I've read by authors mostly men who come from India have been just so good. Dynamic, interesting, compelling, often very difficult. It'll be a mark of progress when you don't have to be this good to get published, when mediocrity is allowed you the same as it is allowed white authors, but at th I wonder if it is that to get a book published when you're an Indian ex-pat author, it needs to be really, really good. It'll be a mark of progress when you don't have to be this good to get published, when mediocrity is allowed you the same as it is allowed white authors, but at the moment, damn.

    Note: The rest of this review has been withheld due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here. In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook Feb 26, Radiantflux rated it it was amazing Shelves: sex-drugs-weirdness , fiction , places-and-travel. A haunting, hallucinatory account of Mumbai's opium drug culture in the s. Written by a ex-addict poet there is a realism here that captures both the beauty and horror of this vanished subculture. One of my favorite books for the year so far.

    View all 16 comments. Aug 18, Jeva rated it really liked it. At first glance, Narcopolis is a novel about drugs. At second glance, it is a novel about lust. At third, it is a novel about Bombay. So goes the magic of a great book. His particular enunciation he likely owes to his own poetic background, in which he has authored collections including These Errors Are Correct and English.

    Not the Booker prize

    Although the novel centers on Dimple, who is a eunuch, prostitute, and opium addict, it also addresses a dealer named Rashid; a Chinese opium addict referred to as Mr. Perhaps this is because Narcopolis does not give its characters any allowances; they are owed their fates and as readers, we are not lead to feel sentiment or pity. And to know those things and to continue to do it is actually an example of free will at its strongest.

    At less than three hundred pages, Thayil wastes few words, although some of the asides seem more personal than relevant. With its honesty and masterly-crafted prose, I would be shocked not to see Narcopolis on the Man Booker short list, come this September. One cannot help but mull over the prose well after the book has reached its end. As a result, Narcopolis is a story of drugs and lust, a story of the pipe, of intoxication, of decay and violence.

    Penguin, pages. Jun 30, Chris Craddock rated it it was amazing Shelves: contemporary-fiction. Bombay sounds like quite an astonishing place, as described by author Jeet Thayil in his first novel, Narcopolis. About Narcopolis , Thayil said, "I've always been suspicious of the novel that paints India in soft focus, a place of loved children and loving elders, of monsoons and mangoes and spices.

    To equal Bombay as a subject you would have to go much further than the merely nostalgic will allow. The grotesque may be a more accurate means of carrying out such an enterprise. While he did mention both mangoes and monsoons, there was one word that he never uttered: Mumbai.

    The novel begins and ends, however, with the old name of that metropolis: Bombay. Bombay is the Narcopolis of the book's title, and Bombay is the star and subject of the book, its alpha and omega. Jeet's refusal to even mention the word Mumbai shows his allegiance to the ancient name, the ancient metropolis. I really enjoyed Jeet Thayil's prose. As one reviewer put it: "His idiom is the result of a cosmopolitan blend of styles, and is yet, quite clearly, his own. Dom got into trouble while living in New York so he was sent back home only to get into even deeper trouble on Shuklaji Street.

    He is honest about his shortcomings, and doesn't pretend to care about anything other than drugs. He is not very likeable, in fact--but probably doesn't care whether you like him or not. This gives his words a certain authenticity--a ring of truth. Why would he lie about other matters when he is so blunt about himself? Though the book begins with the run-on-sentence-to-end-all-run-on-sentences just to give a feel for the free-flowing conversations of opium dens, it settles into a very simple style, very matter-of-fact, not trying to show off or impress, but soon you are blown away.

    It gives quite a vivid impression of Bombay as it undergoes massive changes, and serves as both guided tour and elegy. The story begins in the s and carries through to the recent past. Bombay is now a global village where ancient traditions, though threatened by the relentless march of time, still exist alongside modern cultural influences such as the music of Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, and the science fiction of Philip K. Narcopolis is a tour de force that lulls you into a lotus dream of O then slams you in the face like a cobblestone cast by Pathar Maar, the stone killer.

    Ciao, Bombay. Now where do I even start? There's always a problem with these critically acclaimed, highly praised books. You expect something from them, something larger than life, something special, and most of the time you've raised the bar in your head so high that the book can never reach that elevation. This one will. Jeet Thayil's 'hallucinatory dream of a novel' as described in one of the blurbs, is exactly that.

    It is a book that could not have been written; it could only have been lived. It's a meditati Now where do I even start? It's a meditation on loneliness, being, identity and madness unlike any other. You can see the city transforming, feel the undercurrent of the metamorphosis that is the perennial state of Bombay, in something as small but utterly significant as the transformation of opium to 'chemical', to garad and heroin. And what characters. Never will you meet a character as multifaceted and deep, as sad, as lonely and as haunted as Dimple.

    And her being a 'hijda' is nothing more than a part of her being; it is never elevated to the core of her character, of who she is, and that gives her presence in the novel a sort of beautiful dignity. Rashidbhai's quirks and religious paradoxes, Rumi's unfettered, undeclared madness; Bombay lives in each of these characters, developing an indelible, unforgettable photograph of the back streets.

    Rereads are a given, even if just to understand how the author put that image of smoke in your head there, how he managed to make you think about flowers there. The narrator states on page seven, ".. Not the first one, the first drag just warms you up. The second one, the third one, the fourth one.. Narcopolis will take you there, to someplace far, someplace lost, a place so hidden within yourself you need the pipe to bring it out, to understand who you are and where you've been. It is that kind of book.

    It is an opium pipe-dream located in multiple realities brought to life by myriad fascinating characters in the city of Bombay with interludes in New York and China. It brings living to life in the tradition of the Surrealists, the Decadents and the Beats. The Pathar Maar, a serial killer who used stones to bash in the heads of the homeless on the streets, strangely enough, reminded me This is a REAL book, a brilliant one written in a tradition that very few Indian writers in English can handle.

    Dom comes to see her to smoke opium, for her company, and to read books to her, for he recognizes that Dimple loves to read. Lee, a Chinese refugee who began his own opium den and who sheltered Dimple until his death. The years pass in a haze for the characters. The s come on, and Rashid is approached by Khalid about transforming his opium den and brothel into a place for cocaine.

    Rashid refuses, and his place is shut down by corrupt government officials and corrupt police. As cocaine comes onto the scene in force, opium supplies, like Salim, begin lacing the opium with strychnine to give it a more potent kick and to beat out opium. As the s wear on, and the s come on, drugs of every imaginable kind become available. But the hard-partying lifestyle of those in the slums finally begin to catch up to them. Dom decides he will leave Bombay to begin a new life. Dimple realizes she will die if she stays in the city, so she begs Dom to take her with him. Instead, Dom checks Dimple into a rehab place called Safer.

    Safer is also attended by Rumi who has since divorced his wife and lost everything. Rehab does not stick with Rumi, however. Rashid, fat and old, regrets only not having gone with cocaine at the den when he had the chance. In , Rashid receives a visit from Dom, who asks how everyone is doing. Rashid explains everyone is now dead except for them. Dom asks to bring home some old things from the den as souvenirs, including an opium pipe. He intends to turn them into a museum exhibit, or so he tells Rashid.

    Rashid says the exhibit should display their shame for the way their lives have been lived. At his apartment, Dom smokes the opium pipe, and it is revealed the entire book has been only one of his opium dreams. Read more from the Study Guide. Browse all BookRags Study Guides. Copyrights Narcopolis from BookRags. All rights reserved. Toggle navigation. Sign Up.