Review of Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil
by Jeet Thayil
I don’t abandon books lightly, but it had to be done. If I hadn’t borrowed enough books from the library that I have to read about 1 per day to finish them before I move to England, I definitely would have finished this. I don’t think I would have liked it, mind you, but it’s not horrible enough to abandon.
I should have paid attention to Jeet Thayil’s biography. Poets-turned-novelist rarely work for me. Their emphasis of style over substance and urge to be “experimental” in that style often leave me shaking my head and looking around frantically for some kind of, any kind of plot. That’s definitely my experience with Narcopolis. The plot telescopes backwards through each character, moving from the main character (whose name I forget) to the eunuch prostitute Dimple to her Chinese opium mentor Mr. Lee and so on, swinging back around eventually (I hope).
This will work for some people, I’m sure, and since I haven’t finished it, I can’t really talk much about the story itself. Thayil seems to work hard to capture the atmosphere of the Bombay drug underworld, the mixture of brutal criminal enterprise with addict tourism. Along the way we get glimpses of politics and philosophy. It might be good—but I don’t really have the patience or the time, right now, to find out.