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Narcopolis [Paperback]

Jeet Thayil
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
RRP: 12.99
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Book Description

2 Feb 2012

Wait now, light me up so we do this right, yes, hold me steady to the lamp, hold it, hold, good, a slow pull to start with, to draw the smoke low into the lungs, yes, oh my...

Shuklaji Street, in Old Bombay. In Rashid's opium room the air is thick with voices and ghosts: Hindu, Muslim, Christian. A young woman holds a long-stemmed pipe over a flame, her hair falling across her eyes. Men sprawl and mutter in the gloom. Here, they say you introduce only your worst enemy to opium. There is an underworld whisper of a new terror: the Pathar Maar, the stone killer, whose victims are the nameless, invisible poor. In the broken city, there are too many to count.

Stretching across three decades, with an interlude in Mao's China, it portrays a city in collision with itself. With a cast of pimps, pushers, poets, gangsters and eunuchs, it is a journey into a sprawling underworld written in electric and utterly original prose.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; 1st Edition edition (2 Feb 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571275761
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571275762
  • Product Dimensions: 2.3 x 14.3 x 23.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 152,437 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'Jeet Thayil's Bombay is a city dreaming troubled dreams, and Narcopolis will change the way you imagine it.' --Hari Kunzru

'Completely fascinating and told with a feverish and furious necessity.'
--Alan Warner

'This is a compelling, often exhilarating debut. Thayil deftly weaves the various narrative threads, and his overheated, hypertrophied prose invites comparison with the greatest of all narco-novels: William Burroughs' Naked Lunch.' Financial Times

'At its best beautifully written, inventive and clear-eyed, Narcopolis deserves to be read and acclaimed.' Times Literary Supplement

'An evocative portrait ... Thayil's depiction of the addicts' slow disintegration until they become 'damaged strangers' and 'inanimate objects', even to themselves, is devastating' --New Statesman

'I wished that this book, like some long and delicious opium-induced daydream, would go on and on ... Narcopolis is a blistering debut that can indeed stand proudly on the shelf next to Burroughs and De Quincey.' --Guardian

'Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil plumbs the world of substance addiction with a feverish imaginative power. Written with a poet s eye for economy, its generous and unflinching vision drifts between dream, nightmare, and the sprawling real world of Mumbai that the characters struggle to inhabit. This journey is also a narrative of language and ideas, but what makes Narcopolis a truly great book is its compassion and hard-earned wisdom.' --Krys Lee, Financial Times Books of the Year

'This is a compelling, often exhilarating debut. Thayil deftly weaves the various narrative threads, and his overheated, hypertrophied prose invites comparison with the greatest of all narco-novels: William Burroughs' Naked Lunch.' Financial Times

'At its best beautifully written, inventive and clear-eyed, Narcopolis deserves to be read and acclaimed.' Times Literary Supplement

'an evocative portrait ... Thayil's depiction of the addicts' slow disintegration until they become "damaged strangers" and "inanimate objects", even to themselves, is devastating' --New Statesman

'I wished that this book, like some long and delicious opium-induced daydream, would go on and on ... Narcopolis is a blistering debut that can indeed stand proudly on the shelf next to Burroughs and De Quincey.' --Guardian

'Captures the Bombay underworld of the 1970s in all its intoxicating, poetic squalor.' --Observer

'I wished that this book, like some long and delicious opium-induced daydream, would go on and on ... Narcopolis is a blistering debut that can indeed stand proudly on the shelf next to Burroughs and De Quincey.' --Guardian

Book Description

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, a rich and hallucinatory novel, set around a Bombay opium den as the city transforms itself over three decades.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
By R. A. Davison TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil, a Booker 2012 longlist nominee, is a portrait of drug addicts in Bombay. Omniscient narrator Dom describes a variety of characters encountered in Bombay's drug dens. Prostitute Dimple, Chinese refugee Mr Lee, drug dealer Rashid etc.

There are, without a doubt some absolute gems hidden within the prose of Narcopolis, a passage about the nature of doubt stood out for me, and the novel got off to a good start, but there is no plot as such; despite the quality of the prose I found myself disengaging from the novel and at a certain undefinable point it stopped being something I was reading, and became a chore I had to get through.

For readers unfamiliar with India, use of slang and cultural references, will sometimes create a barrier of understanding, or did for me at any rate. I suppose if I wanted to give it a catchy, easily understood summary I'd say "It's an Indian Trainspotting". Likewise did Trainspotting, with its use of local dialect create a comprehension barrier for the average reader.

Narcopolis is the 8th book on the longlist which I have now read, with the exception of Bring Up The Bodies which I read regardless of its presence on the list, at the time of publication, I have been pretty disappointed with this years list, plenty of "good" solid books like The Lighthouse say, but nothing which has transcended words on a page, and entered a part of my mind or heart.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Indian life through an opium cloud 2 Aug 2012
By MisterHobgoblin TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
Narcopolis begins and ends in Bombay. I suspect that, in the middle, Jeet Thayil had hoped to create a Bombay epic. It is probably not substantial enough to achieve that ambition, but is an interesting and quirky look at Indian life through an opium cloud.

The novel is bookended by the narration of an American dopehead, Dom Ullis, who first visits Rashid's opium den in the late 1970s or early 1980s - time is fairly unspecific - and returns some 20-30 years later. He is intrigued by some of the characters he meets, most intriguing of whom is Dimple, a woman who used to be a man. Dom's sections are not terribly lucid; they drift in and out of focus; they have psychobabble wittering; they have the detachment of a tourist who knows that he won't really be touched by anything he sees or does.

The more interesting sections are the central "meat" of the book. We uncover elements of Dimple's story and those she encounters. Hence we get the story of Mr Lee, a Chinese man who has fled the cultural revolution. We half discover how Dimple came to be castrated and ended up working in a brothel. We have the story of Rashid and Rumi and a host of other minor villains. As the stories converge on Rashid's den, they start to contradict as much as they overlap The lucidity with which we see Dimple's earlier life and Mr Lee' story of flight blurs into a smoky haze.

This could all have been a bit of a disaster were it not for the engaging brilliance of Dimple. She suffered abuse and humiliation, yet she plied her trade trade in brothels and drug dens with detached dignity. She intrigued both clients and employers alike. Yet for all the charisma, for all the victimhood, she is not quite angelic. She is willing to lie, cheat, steal and perhaps more to get what she wants.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Drugs as a metaphor for Indian urban problems 28 Aug 2012
By Ripple TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
In "Narcopolis", Jeet Thayil pulls off that tricky thing of writing about protagonists under narcotic influence surprisingly well for me, although it's fair to say that it won't be everyone's taste. It's not a book that the Bombay/Mumbai tourist office will be keen to promote. A cover quotation links the book to a similar vein (OK, that's a poor choice of words in the circumstances) to "Trainspotting" and that's not far from the mark.

Thayil opens the story in the 1970s in Rashid's opium house where his regulars, including the narrator, in Indian student named Dom, interact with Rashid and the memorable character of Dimple, a eunuch who expertly prepares the pipes. What, for me, makes this successful is that he slowly and gently takes the reader into the depths of the dream-like world they live in. On the surface of the book, it's very much about addiction, to narcotics but also to sex and alcohol, but at a deeper level it's also a using drugs as a huge metaphor for the changes in India over the period from the simplicity of opium, and the long-standing historical links between China and India, to the more damaging modern narcotics of heroin from Pakistan which has a more violent and damaging impact on its users. India remains a melting pot of religion, cultures and wealth throughout but Thayil is suggesting that it is the more modern influences that have made it more damaging and violent. When his narrator, Dom, returns in present day though, he is just as drawn in to the vice as he was in the 1970s, so perhaps little has changed.

Thayil does explore some of the inherent contradictions in Indian life but in many ways you get less of a flavour of India than with the older generation of Indian writers.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars unusual but worth while 16 Dec 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A group of characters - loosely connected through their use of opium and later other variants of opium and Rashid's khana, in which it is smoked or injected or inhaled - has a range of experiences in 1980s Bombay. These range from the visit to Bombay of an artist who specialises in images of Christ, through to the live of the local gangsters and corrupt police, through ethnic conflict and general poverty. The final chapters of the book are a 30 years on return by the narrator who has been part of the scene, but not a central part. Much of the book concerns Dimple, who works for Rashid, and Mr Lee for several chapters, from whom she inherits an opium pipe which buys her original entry to Rashid's khan.

This is therefore not a tightly plotted novel - it has more the rewards of an interlocking set of short stories - memorable incident, some reflections on the meaning of life, and a very strong sense of time and place.

The opening chapter is an 8 page unparagraphed reflection by the narrator looking back on his own first experience of opium at Rashid's. If this does not immediately appeal, it is unlikely that the rest of the book will fare much better. On the whole, I enjoyed it and it will certainly linger in the memory.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Sensory heady prose
Not quite Bombay's Trainspotting, but close. Thayil has Welsh's ear for dialect but makes poetry with an eye for beautiful juxtaposition. More Bolano than Begbie. Read more
Published 8 hours ago by leekmuncher
4.0 out of 5 stars Not recommended for Daily Mail readers or children under 11.
This is the author's first novel but he has already produced 4 books of poetry. The book is all about Bombay, so much so that the name is the first and last word of the book,... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Dr R
1.0 out of 5 stars Not sure how.....
.....this has been nominated for any awards to be honest. The book got off to great start setting a scene in my mind of the opium dens in Bombay, however, it swiftly went downhill... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Allan Turner
5.0 out of 5 stars book of the year so far
As an author myself it can sometimes be frustrating to see what publishers feel is worthy of their effort. Read more
Published 7 months ago by D. J. J. Lavin
4.0 out of 5 stars fine
an engaging story life of opium users in mumbai who progress to heroin some great writing at times you can smell the smoke,a vibrant book which carries you into the mumbai... Read more
Published 7 months ago by m. dosa
1.0 out of 5 stars confused and over written
Very disappointing, don't understand the rave reviews thus book has received. Depressing and uninspiring, won't be reading anything similar ever
Published 8 months ago by The cyclist
4.0 out of 5 stars Complex
I found this quite a hard read because the structure left me a little confused at times, but having said that I got quite engrossed and it kept me turning the pages.
Published 8 months ago by martin9325
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting topic but the plot lost its way
Not as enjoyable as I'd expected. Interesting topic and themes but the plot meandered too much for me. The characters felt a little sketchy and one dimensional. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Alex
1.0 out of 5 stars Painful
I was told at school it was very important not to make sentences too long otherwise they become difficult to read. The first sentence in this book is nearly 7 pages long. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Nemo James - Singer Songwriter
4.0 out of 5 stars Adrift in a dangerously beguiling city
Dom records his recollections and dreams as he drifts on a cloud of opium each night, back in the city of Bombay (he eschews the modern name Mumbai) which is home but increasingly... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Acorn
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