Published on November 12, 2013 | by Holly Gillbert


Get trippy with Thayil

Jeet Thayil’s debut Necropolis [Photo: Penguin Books]


Narcopolis is a vivid trip down the darkest alleyways of Bombay in the 1970s, when opium was king and eunuchs a sexual prize worth a high price.

The whole book emulates a fierce and vivid opium trip, sucking you deeper into the story as the characters suck on their pipes.

Thayil writes with simplicity and pointed description that links seamlessly with a pace and vivacity that makes the characters’ unravelling lives seem all the more real.

Rashid’s famed opium den, which attracts hippies from around the world, provides the backdrop for this debauched and dark tale.

As time slips by and heroin is brought to India, its toxicity spoils the languid world of the Bombay residents.

This horrendous new drug seeps deep into the lives of Rashid and Dimple, the beautiful eunuch who perfected the art of tending to the opium pipes, as the city descends into chaos and savagery.

Thayil unpicks the complexities, contradictions and hypocrisies of Indian life with a creativity and eloquence that best reflects his poetic past with each dichotomy challenging the next.

He juxtaposes the good Muslim selling heroin while complaining about brazen women, the whoring beggar woman who makes the street her bedroom and bathroom, and the eunuch Hindu praying in church, an action that saves her from the mob but not her fate.

The shift between characters as narrators adds to the headiness of the drug-ridden streets into which the reader is drawn, adding to the resonance of the plight of those you encounter along the way.

Slipping between time and people allows Thayil to detail each individual story as it degenerates with horrifying description.

As addictive as the opium Dimple prepares in the backstreets, Narcopolis embodies the dark and twisted city in all its sweaty, trippy glory.

Thayil’s bombardment of the senses marks a successful debut into the literary world.

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