When it comes to choosing books I know what I like and as a result I rarely start a book I can’t finish. On its surface Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil appeared to be a book I would like: an out of the ordinary Indian tale of Bombay’s drug infested underworld. All good, right? Add to that the fact that it was nominated for the Man Booker Prize in 2012 and it sounds like a sure fire winner.
I should have known after the seven page Prologue with no punctuation that it was not the book for me. Thayil writes experimentally through out the narrative. He is, among other things, a performance poet, so I knew things were going to get a little out there. Generally a little experimentation does not turn me off, but compound it with drug induced dream sequences and it left me with no idea what was going on most of the time.
In spite of the often times impenetrable prose, Narcopolis did bring back happy memories of Bombay for me. Thayil includes some wonderful descriptions of a flooded metropolis during the monsoon season. His use of Hindi in the narrative also intrigued me. Admittedly, the Hindi I know has very little to do with drug culture, but linguistically it was still nice to hear such proficient Hindi gutter talk. For most readers, however, the use of Hindi may obfuscate larger parts of the narrative.
Who would like this book? Narcopolis is not an easy read. And this is coming from someone who enjoys a challenging read. It may appeal to those who like the Beat writers for its hallucinatory prose. The narrative includes many dream sequences, which I believe as a category should be banned from literature. Listening to your partner’s dreams is bad enough, let alone reading about them in a book you picked up for entertainment.