Book Review: 2012 Shortlisted: Jeet Thayil's Narcopolis (Reviews #2 & #3)

 Jackie’s Rating: 3
 Penny’s Rating: 3
 A Novel by Jeet Thayil
 2012 / 292 Pages

Get ready for a drug induced ride!! Narcopolis is a novel that begins with a 7 page run on sentence that will likely scare off many a reader! It takes place in the underground world of opium dens in 1970’s Bombay, India. It chronicles the lives of some of the patrons and employees of Rashid’s– renowned for having the “best smoke on Shuklaji Street”. This book has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and is therefore part of our BookerMarks collaborative. We’ve done the podcast (which you can listen to here) and have been singing Men At Work’s Down Under ever since! This will be another Jackie and Penny  joint review.

Jackie’s Review:

This was one I was not jumping up and down to read. I read Irving Welch’s Trainspotting a very long time ago and thoroughly disliked it– drug addiction to the extreme of being a culture of its own is a dirty, dirty business and a dirty, DIRTY read and I was not looking forward to doing it again. I was surprised to like this one a heck of a lot better– mostly because it was not written in phonetic Scottish but also because of the endearing character of Dimple– a professional opium pipe operator and smoker who was also a eunuch prostitute with a heart of gold.

Dimple came across a simple “girl” who knew her lot in life. She was given up by her mother and then castrated at a very young age for the purpose of a kinky choice in the brothels of Old Bombay. Despite her lot in life she teaches herself to read and tries to be a good person. She is haunted by the one promise could not keep to Mr. Lee, a Chinese opium addict who sort of “adopts” Dimple in the later years of his life. He acts almost as a father figure to her as he teaches her the art of opium smoking. Dimple’s journey from everyone’s favourite pipe tender at Rashid’s to her burka wearing days as Rashid’s Zeenat; from her stint at rehab to her rapid decline is fascinating and were the parts I looked forward to the most as I read. Other characters such as Rashid himself, Rumi, the abusive husband, Dom the narrator of the story and Bengali the den’s accountant were not as fully developed or as interesting as Dimple but they were enough to keep your interest. I do agree with Elizabeth’s review that the opium pipes themselves were also a central character and this book wouldn’t be the same without them!

After discussing this book with my fellow BookerMarkers I did decide to do as Michelle planned to do– re-read the 7 page ranting prologue– Something For The Mouth. Starting off a book with a 7 page sentence, as I said, is enough to scare off anyone but after the reread it I found that I did appreciate what it was trying to accomplish a little bit better. It had a rhythmic timbre as you read, extremely poetic and yes, it gave you an overall feeling of breathing in and out the opium smoke. I don’t think it would have worked as an ending but perhaps they should add the recommendation to re-read it at the end– it really did tie things up nicely. 3 stars for me as I pass the pipe to Penny…

Penny’s Review:

Chuckles!! :-) Excellent intro over to my review Jackie! Thank you. My review will be very short.  This has already been reviewed previously by all our fellow BookerMarks collaborators and there really isn’t much more for me to say. Elizabeth was first to delve in to this seedy world and therefore I knew what was coming, and as Jackie noted above, I definitely was NOT jumping up and down to read this one. This is a book I would never consider reading. I do shamelessly judge a book by its cover, and this one, (although Jackie has used an alternative cover – this one above is far better!) along with the knowledge of what is contained between the cover is simply not my type of novel I willingly reach out for. I think Karli’s review for BookerMarks was very well written and summarizes wonderfully what the story encapsulated but also my same thoughts and feelings about it. Therefore nothing more could be added by me, so I’ll let you re-read it here if you like.

And, as every single BookerMarks judge has done before me, I’ve given it 3 stars as well. Lovely writing albeit a subject I wish to not expand my knowledge on any further. :-) Sorry!

This review was posted on 10/14/2012 on BookerMarks.