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A Reader of Fictions: Down Under - Men At Work (+ Giveaway)

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Down Under - Men At Work (+ Giveaway)

Narcopolis Blog Tour:

Author: Jeet Thayil
Pages: 288
Publisher: Penguin
Review Copy Acquired from: TLC Book Tours

Description from Goodreads:
Jeet Thayil’s luminous debut novel completely subverts and challenges the literary traditions for which the Indian novel is celebrated. This is a book about drugs, sex, death, perversion, addiction, love, and god, and has more in common in its subject matter with the work of William S. Burroughs or Baudelaire than with the subcontinent’s familiar literary lights. Above all, it is a fantastical portrait of a beautiful and damned generation in a nation about to sell its soul. Written in Thayil’s poetic and affecting prose, Narcopolis charts the evolution of a great and broken metropolis.

Narcopolis opens in Bombay in the late 1970s, as its narrator first arrives from New York to find himself entranced with the city’s underworld, in particular an opium den and attached brothel. A cast of unforgettably degenerate and magnetic characters works and patronizes the venue, including Dimple, the eunuch who makes pipes in the den; Rumi, the salaryman and husband whose addiction is violence; Newton Xavier, the celebrated painter who both rejects and craves adulation; Mr. Lee, the Chinese refugee and businessman; and a cast of poets, prostitutes, pimps, and gangsters.

Decades pass to reveal a changing Bombay, where opium has given way to heroin from Pakistan and the city’s underbelly has become ever rawer. Those in their circle still use sex for their primary release and recreation, but the violence of the city on the nod and its purveyors have moved from the fringes to the center of their lives. Yet Dimple, despite the bleakness of her surroundings, continues to search for beauty-at the movies, in pulp magazines, at church, and in a new burka-wearing identity.

After a long absence, the narrator returns to find a very different Bombay in 2004. Those he knew are almost all gone, but the heights of the passion he feels for them and for the city is revealed.

First Sentence (or part of it anyway): "Bombay, which obliterated its own history by changing its name and surgically altering its face, is the hero or heroin of this story..."

That Narcopolis is not like the average work of fiction becomes apparent almost immediately. The book opens with a prologue consisting of only one sentence. A seven page sentence. The prologue was actually my favorite part, because it is so beautifully crafted. I read it to myself silently once and then aloud, and it really does have a great rhythm to it.

The book calls to mind, not the first time a book has done so since I've maintained this blog, my class on counterculture, which focused primarily on the Beats, but also included authors like William S. Burroughs and Henry Miller. Narcopolis definitely has a bit of the feel of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, although with an Indian flair, perhaps influences of Salman Rushdie (although since I have not actually had time to read one of his books all the way through yet, I can not say that for sure, but the opening did remind me of his style in what I read of Midnight's Children).

I was not a big fan of most of the books I read in my counterculture class. Had I had the blog back then, most of them would have been rated a 2 or lower, with the exceptions of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, perhaps Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and an Andy Warhol book. Narcopolis I definitely enjoyed more than most. Like Fear and Loathing, much of the book is about existing in a drug-soaked haze, and the crazy things that happen as a result, however, other sections are amazingly clear-headed, concise philosophy and observations on the human condition.

Perhaps I do not need to point out that this is not a book for someone easily offended by, well, most things. There's a lot of drug-doing obviously, sex, violence, and swearing. Although I usually don't go too quote crazy, I'm going to include a couple here to show you examples of the insightful moments I found so moving, as well as to allow you to get a sense of Thayil's style.
" 'My religion is no way of knowing me.' " (214)
"Drugs are a bad habit, so why do it? Because, said Dimple, it isn't the heroin that we're addicted to, it's the drama of the life, the chaos of it, that's the real addiction and we never get over it; and because when you come down to it, the high life, that is, the intoxicated life, is the best of the limited options offered."  (228-9)
I especially adore that quote in reference to religion. Maybe it should have been my favorite, but, really, there were a lot of amazing bits in here. So, basically, don't let my relatively low rating scare you away. I'm not really the perfect audience for this, what with not being remotely interested in drugs and not being a huge fan of counterculture literature. Even with that in mind, though, I can heartily recommend this with a clear conscience to anyone who liked reading those things...which is why I'm going to pass on my copy, lovely as it is, to one of my readers.

To enter to win, simply fill out the Rafflecopter form below.

Rating: 2.5/5

Favorite Quote: "You've got to face facts and the fact is life is a joke, a fucking bad joke, or, no, a bad fucking joke. There's no point taking it seriously because whatever happens, and I mean whatever the fuck, the punch line is the same: you go out horizontally. You see the point? No fucking point."

a Rafflecopter giveaway
"Lying in a den in Bombay
With a slack jaw, and not much to say"

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Blogger Unknown said...

I'm very interested in reading this book because it sounds so different and creative. I also like that there are several insightful passages.

Wonderful review!
Thank you for offering your book to a reader!

May 1, 2012 at 12:23 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I haven't read many of the Beats but I loved One Flew Over the Cucoo's Nest and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I wasn't as big a fan of Kerouac's On the Road
One of these days I'll read Burroughs and Ginsberg...or try to, anyway!

May 1, 2012 at 12:28 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I agree with you for the most part! I loved One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Fear and Loathing I hated in some parts, but I liked parts of it A LOT. Since you liked that, I think you really would enjoy Narcopolis. It's the most similar reading-wise, I think.

On the Road was a little boring. It wasn't awful, but it was meh.

Burroughs! *shakes fist* I haven't read Ginsberg either. I probably won't in all honesty.

May 1, 2012 at 12:36 PM  
Blogger trish said...

You have a great background to read a book like this, and even though it wasn't really your thing, I think you did it justice! Interesting quotes you used there.

Thanks for being on the tour!

May 3, 2012 at 3:42 AM  
Blogger Lilian said...

Honestly, I have no idea who they are.

*hides in a hole*

May 4, 2012 at 9:45 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

LOL. That's totally okay. They're folks like Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg. They were mostly about drugs, but also had some interesting thoughts through the haze occasionally. Very 1960s. :-p

May 4, 2012 at 9:59 AM  
Anonymous Katie said...

This book sounds pretty good!

May 9, 2012 at 10:48 PM  
Blogger Sheena-kay Graham said...

No idea, no idea.

May 12, 2012 at 2:58 AM  
Anonymous Suz Reads said...

I don't know who the Beatniks are - sorry!

May 13, 2012 at 5:55 PM  
Blogger Karielle Stephanie said...

I'm afraid I don't know who or what they are.

thestephanieloves AT gmail DOT com

May 13, 2012 at 11:03 PM  

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