Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize
Written in poetic and affecting prose, Jeet Thayil's luminous debut novel charts the evolution of a great and broken metropolis across three decades. A rich, hallucinatory dream that captures Bombay in all its compelling squalor, Narcopolis completely subverts and challenges the literary traditions for which the Indian novel is celebrated. It 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. Burroughs or Baudelaire than with that of the subcontinent's familiar literary lights. Above all, it is a fantastical portrait of a beautiful and damned generation in a nation about to sell its soul.
A vibrantly squalid yet glamorous Bombay of the 1970s emerges as the main character in poet Thayil's debut novel. An unnamed narrator wanders through the sweltering Indian underworld of opium dens with odd characters like the intellectually ravenous eunuch, Dimple; and Newton Xavier, a renowned visiting poet and painter. Offbeat character portraits and compelling philosophical discussions form the bulk of the book. The narrator eventually recedes from the story, but returns 25 years later to bookend the novel. In between, the focus shifts to Mr. Lee, a Chinese entrepreneur and frequenter of brothels. Mr. Lee's eventual rise to affluence serves as a parallel to the journey of the city itself. When the narrator moves back in 2004, though heroin has superseded opium as the drug of choice (resulting in an even seamier underground), he finds that Bombay has become Mumbai, an international metropolis. Thayil's precision and economy distill what could be a sprawling and uneven saga into an elegant tapestry of beautifully observed characters and their complex lives.
Takes you on an adventurous trip to India and Asia, with detailed descriptions of the under world, drug induced, with themes of the ungodly. The genre comparisons of Burroughs and Kerouac are overstated, as those novelist entice you into the world of drugs and experiences. This is more of a say no to drugs, direct slap in the face to capture your attention. Well written but left disappointed as the expectation was much more than what he could deliver.