Unabridged Chick

I'm Audra, a 30-something married lesbian. I love interesting heroines, gorgeous prose, place as character, and the occasional werewolf.
Narcopolis - Jeet Thayil The novel opens with a seven page, comma-laden, period-free, stream-of-consciousness intro from our opium-stoned narrator that left me literally breathless. It was a little intimidating, but fun, too, requiring me to be a bit more conscientious about my reading. However, don't let this intro scare you off, however, as this is a very readable novel that is a look into urban culture in India wholly new to me. Freaky, dark, twisted, poetic, uncomfortable, and moving.Thayil's novel is very much a drug narrative, focusing on the users, the addicts, the dealers, the victim, set during twenty-ish years or so in Bombay. The focus on the gritty, gross, twisted, and dark underbelly of an urban center reminded me greatly of Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting. There was even shades of A.S. Byatt to the story, with Thayil's enfent terrible painter and poet, Newton Xavier, and the exploration of his destructive and desperate life. The novel's narrator, Dom Ullis, was born into some privilege, was educated, but succumbs to drug addiction which leads to his relationships with people on the edges of society, from dealers to pimps to sex workers to artists. For me, the most fascinating character in this book was Dimples. She's a hijra, which is a kind of 'third sex', born a physiological male who had her penis and testicles removed at age 10. Living as a woman, she's a sex worker who knows Ullis and through whom a good deal of the story is revealed. Not being familiar with hijra wasn't a hindrance as Thayil provides enough hints in the narrative to make her plight clear and compelling. I keep saying 'dreamy' to describe this novel, which I hope doesn't frighten anyone away, because this is a very grounded story, but offered through the lens of addiction, the grip of a drug high. While there are depictions of sex, drug use, and violence, none of it felt gratuitous or excessive (although it was disturbing); Thayil's writing balances a hopeless resignation with a kind of optimism. Every few pages I came across a passage that was just beautiful -- my copy is tagged with three dozen flags marking lines I found captivating -- and I think anyone who loves gorgeous writing and is interested in exploring an unusual narrative should give this one a try. I'm quite excited to see what Thayil's next work will be.