Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil

August 18, 2017 • By

For most of the readers in India, who are the fiction readers, Jeet Thayil was born after he was shortlisted for Man Booker Prize in 2012. However, Thayil was writing poetry way back and has also won some of the prestigious awards for his poetry. He dived into novel writing a little later. His debut novel, Narcopols was published in September 2012 and went on to become one of the shortlisted novels for the Booker Prize as well as the Man Asian Literary Prize. With his very debut novel, Thayil won the acclaim and the recognition because he defied all the traditional norms (supposedly) set for the Indian writings. Narcopolis is about sex, drug, underworld, crime, lust and all that are not accepted as ‘good things’ for the novels!

The novel is set in the 70s Bombay which was eager to accept the new generation and many other things which came as freebies with the modernity – opium, perversion, pub generation and many other things which have become common today. However, in those days, these things were rather new and the marketing was done and ironically, Thayil was one of the business development managers! Yes, the novel Narcopolis also draws some of its juice from the personal life of Thayil back in those days.

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The narrative of the novel, Thayil’s prose, as we all could better expect from a poet, is a rather poetic. The novel begins with the relocation of the narrator from NY to Bombay of the 1970s (fall). The narrator gets deep into the underworld – the opium addiction and brothels are the things which find their reflection in plenty in the novel. The main characters which play their part in the novel are Dimple, Newton Xavier, Mr Lee, Rumi, and many others who are artists, writers, prostitutes, mafia persons and many others and many others…

The novel records decades passing and evolution which happens to take place in the underworld as well. Opium converts into the heroin which comes from Pakistan. Prostitution goes to a different (of course higher) level, crime also grows to a next stage and everything about the underworld keeps the evolution head on.

Then the narrator returns to Bombay after a long gap in 2004 only to find most of the people he knew were gone. However, the ignition that he felt in the city then, still remains the same!

Narcopolis was the central talk among the literary critics for a while when it came to be on the Man Booker Shortlist for 2012. Thayil’s craft in novel writing is surely something to be commended because he has recorded the reality with a perfect artistic whole which cannot be ignored. You can get the novel from the Amazon link below: