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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 16 December 2012
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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on 2 March 2013
I read this book whilst on a trip to India in Feb 2013, visiting West Bengal, Assam and Meghalaya. Thayil's book is based entirely in Mumbai (with a sub-plot dealing with the Chinese origins of one character in the early days of the Communist Revolution), but much of what Thayil describes will be familiar to anyone who has visited any Indian city, if only superficially. The book is well-written with a pacy narrative and a very evocative style, as befits a poet like Thayil, but is not for the faint-hearted as it depicts a cast for whom no moral code seems to apply, and in which casual and often brutal violence, drug use, utter squalor, poverty, and the disposability of human life are quite normal. Some of the characters, such as the transgender prostitute and opium worker Dimple, are capable of generating some sympathy from the reader, but most are repulsive. Still, don't let that put you off. Four stars for the writing, but if I was judging it on the likeability of the characters, it would get two.
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on 23 March 2013
Where to start... I had no real idea what this book was going to be about. I don't think that I have ever read a book based in India before, but i read this as it was the book chosen for my book club.

The main emotions stirred in me by this book were disgust and confusion. The book confronted many different themes including gender, sex, drug use, religion, marriage, prostitution, crime, plus many others. This was all set against the backdrop of 1970's Bombay. Unfamiliar with the history, and quite possibly the culture of Bombay and India in general, I found it quite difficult to follow the story (the language used, the types of places mentioned). I believe this could also have been due to the writing style, which I found to have both positive and negative aspects. It seemed that there wasn't any real, solid story to the book, more a series of situations and events that occurred, involving various combinations of characters in various locations. This was something I found difficult to follow, becoming unsure who was talking at different points in the book. However, the authors descriptions were evocative, and I certainly formed images in my mind of how I thought places and people looked.

There were some very graphic, and disturbing scenes in the book involving drug use, sex (both consensual and non-consensual, in heterosexual and homosexual situations), occurring separately, and together. It mingles religion/sex/drugs together very closely which could certainly prove problematic for some readers. I equate some of the scenes in this book with the kind of scenes that occur in American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, graphic and difficult to read. Alot of these did not seem to have any real build up, or come-down, and were in some cases, just another thing that happened, told in quite a neutral tone.

I would say that it would be difficult to say I enjoyed this book, I found it difficult to become attached to the characters, or to feel empathy to many of them. It is quite possible that I missed the point of the book, as I realise that the book dealt with many difficult themes - however when the book ended, I was left unsatisfied, but not particularly wishing that the story would continue. Time shifts and character shifts made it difficult follow.

I did however enjoy reading it from the perspective that it was out of my comfort zone in terms of usual genres of books, and that despite the confusion I encountered (which could of course just be me being a bit thick!), the writer delivered many interesting thoughts, along side deep questions, interesting character conversations and vivid imagery, whilst also dealing with problematic themes.

I am unsure as of yet, whether it is a book I would recommend to others due to the nature of the content. Not for the faint hearted.
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on 11 April 2013
I quite like picking up books which receive mixed reviews, and that was one of my reasons for reading this one.
It's nomination for awards was also a factor.
Sometimes a book is perhaps easier to understand if you feel some cultural or experiential link to the prose. The world of drug addiction and opium and the reality of Mumbai/Bombay is beyond my experiences, but the book did give me a feel for that, and certainly made me think.
It is though a little bit like an excited child, changing topics quickly and sometimes hard to follow.
Unlike some who seem to have preferred the start to the end, I felt the book actually got better as it went on, perhaps because initially I really didn't see what it was doing or aiming for. In the end it was quite a poignant ride, and although I've only rated it three stars, I would say it was worth a read - I'm glad I read it.
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on 19 April 2014
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.
He also has a sly line in dark humour, ensuring the underbelly of drug addiction and slum life, the constant draw of hit and hypnotism, all work their magic on the reader.
Characterisation is a real strength, so that we hope Dimple is happy and care about Rashid. But most of all, we will our narrator to chase another kind of dragon.
This is a story of escape and redemption, but the strongest chord in this fabulously populated, gorgeously written novel, is one of regret.
Read it. Read it for the joy of language and sensory heady prose.

After that incredible one-sentence first chapter, you'll be hooked.
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on 7 April 2013
This is a book about corruption. It reads like an opium dream with stories sliding over each other, a vivid and hungry language and occasional moments of stark lucidity. The effect is carefully deployed so that form meets function. It has a nostalgic feel and unfortunately deploys the old 'past is a better place' cliche. Like many books on addiction, its moralizing is hidden beneath sudden lurches into violence and a story involving a serial murderer feels somewhat forced in. The experience of this book, like the drug, is exciting, languid and poetic.
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on 30 November 2014
I, Melachi ibn Amillar, being of unsound mind and body, did read Jeet Thayil's novel "Narcopolis" (2012), finishing it on the train to Bangalore. It describes the challenge Pakistani powder posed in the 70s to the notorious Bombay opium dens, which are, consequently, now a challenge for even the most dodgy of local guides to track down. The narrative drifts around the denizens, and some sections are tangential even to that. There is a plot and a final twist. But, finally, not much matters in a opium den.
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on 11 August 2014
I struggled to engage with this book. There were parts, particularly in the middle, where the pages flew by, but the central problem was that I was not involved enough with any of the characters to really care about them. I take on board the point, from a previous review, that the narrator himself is a drug tourist and is therefore not engaged, but the net effect is that this spills over into the (or at least this) reader's experience. I believe that the author became more interested in the prose than the narrative towards the end, perhaps a natural inclination for him (he's a poet after all). The only reason I finished it was out of a stubborn resolve not to let it defeat me! Not without merit but ultimately disappointing.
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on 31 March 2016
I'm Italian and it was quite hard a reading. Nonetheless I quite liked it but wouldn't recommend it unless you speak a very good english. Unless, of course, you like me love the cover so much you can't resist buying it ;)
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on 30 May 2013
I loved this book simply because it took you on a surreal journey every time I opened it. I bought it because I'm off to India in June and thought it'd be good to read about this side before seeing it first hand and actually it never got close to achieving this but that was because my expectation was wrong in the first place. What it did was give you a close up of the drug fuelled haze that is any culture in any city and I found myself being taken on a deep thinking journey every time I opened the pages. Loved it!
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