Book for March 2013
Narcopolis is Thayil's first novel, though he is previously a published poet. The novel draws on his own experiences as a drug addict, and what he calls "the lost 20 years of my life". it took him five years to write the novel, and he called it "the opposite of catharsis. Catharsis gets stuff out of you. But this put bad feelings into me." Thayil decided to call the book Narcopolis "because Bombay seemed to me a city of intoxication, where the substances on offer were drugs and alcohol, of course, but also god, glamour, power, money and sex". Among the literary works to which Narcopolis has been compared are William S. Burroughs's Junkie and Thomas de Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.
Narcopolis was shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize. The jury wrote that they "admired his perfumed prose from the drug dens and backstreets of India's most concentrated conurbation". Narcopolis was shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature (2013) and the Man Asian Literary Prize (2012).
In his prose, as in his poetry, he has introduced new areas of feelings and emotions to Indian literature, and has often concerned himself with the pleasures and pains of drugs and alcohol, sex and death – emblematic of Keats and Baudelaire. He is said to have more in common with figures such as William S. Burroughs and Roberto Bolano than writers traditionally connected with the firmament of Indian literature. The Indian poet, Dom Moraes, in his introduction to Thayil's first book of poems (with poet Vijay Nambisan), Gemini, said that Thayil did not trouble his mind with the concerns of many Indian poets, their Indianness, that he did not make statements that were irrelevant to his work, that his concerns were mainly personal. Thayil, Moraes said, “works his feelings out with care, through colourations of mood rather than through explicit statements.”
His idiom is the result of a cosmopolitan blend of styles, and is yet, quite clearly, his own. About Narcopolis, Thayil said, “I've always been suspicious of the novel that paints India in soft focus, a place of loved children and loving elders, of monsoons and mangoes and spices. To equal Bombay as a subject you would have to go much further than the merely nostalgic will allow. The grotesque may be a more accurate means of carrying out such an enterprise.”