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The Thing about Thugs

3.28 of 5 stars 3.28  ·  rating details  ·  254 ratings  ·  66 reviews
A subversive, macabre novel of a young Indian man's misadventures in Victorian London as the city is racked by a series of murders
In a small Bihari village, Captain William T. Meadows finds just the man to further his phrenological research back home: Amir Ali, confessed member of the infamous Thugee cult. With tales of a murderous youth redeemed, Ali gains passage to Eng
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ebook, 256 pages
Published July 24th 2012 by Houghton Mifflin (first published December 1st 2010)
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Nancy Oakes
Oct 21, 2011 Nancy Oakes rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone with an interest in global literature
The Thing About Thugs is a difficult book to pigeonhole into a single category, and I'm not even going to try. It is part thriller, part examination of London's Victorian invisible underclasses, a look at the flaws in "superior" Western rationalism and the attitudes behind British imperialism, and it is a novel which turns the familiar colonial narrative on its head.

In Bihar, India, a young man is sitting in the library of his grandfather's house, which was once filled with shelves brimming with
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Charlie
Much like what happens in baseball, I believe I've fallen into a reading slump. This summer's advanced readers have been rather disappointing. All seduced me with mention of Victorian London, but all failed to capture my attention. The Thing About Thugs is told in different voices by three different narratives, one of which is set in an annoying script. None of them are particularly interesting, surprising, shocking or intriguing. Instead of building tension and drawing a connection as promised ...more
Andy Quan
First and foremost, Tabish Khair’s novel, The Thing About Thugs, is a great read. Both literary and accessible with beautiful writing and colourful characters, it’s well worth your time.

The Thing About Thugs is also an accomplished act of ventriloquism. Khair’s narrative moves between the voices and thoughts of diverse characters and a narrator, bringing them to life, no simple task as the characters reflect both the highest and lowest ranks of London’s society and beyond. This is what makes the
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Kris Saknussemm
Tabish Khair is an Indian writer I met recently at the Ubud Writer's Festival in Bali (which is a great event on the world writing scene btw). He's considered one of the major new writers on the subcontinent, although he lives in Europe.

Reviewers frequently call attention to the fact that he's a Muslim Indian, the implication being he has some unique perspective on outsiders. What I find more interesting is his "working class kid" upbringing, and the search for something better--and the working
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Tom
This book is a tough read, and not because of the author's writing style. In fact, he writes in an active voice and the story is fascinating. I mean, what's not to like about a thriller set in the slums of London more than 100 years ago involving a serial killer who beheads his victims - not for thrills, but for money?

On the contrary, I found it a difficult read because he changes narrative voices so often - sometimes in every chapter - that the reader has to get re-oriented constantly.

Khair als
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Tony
THE THING ABOUT THUGS. (2012). Tabish Khair. ***.
This first novel by this author was short-listed for the 2010 Man Asian Literary Prize. His day job is as a teacher of literature at Aarhus University. It could be the beginning of a whole new series of procedural novels. In this one, the chief officer of the Phrenological Society, uses the services of a murderer to collect skulls for his collection. Unfortunately, a known member of the Thugs now lives in London, and immediately falls under suspic
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Christina (A Reader of Fictions)
Originally posted here. Also, I'm giving away my ARC - enter by the 13th.

The Thing About Thugs is not precisely my ordinary reading material. Howe cover, I have always been morbidly fascinated by books about serial killers, although I'm not sure that designation is quite right for what happens here. At any rate, I was also drawn in by the racial tensions and the unique sound to the story. Sadly, The Thing About Thugs did not turn out to be precisely my kind of read.

What was really cool about thi
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Doreen
The Thing About Thugs seems almost like 2 different books, tied together by the fact that they're eventually headed in the same narrative direction. The first book, consisting of about the first 170 or so pages, is an exploration of crime and greed, told primarily through the love letters of Amir Ali, the journals of Captain Meadows and the interactions between John May and Lord Batterstone. There are also editorial interludes provided by the nameless narrator who is viewing this all from the pr ...more
L
There is a mystery here, of a sort, but that isn't the point. The book is about living in an immigrant enclave, trying to get by, enduring exploitation and racism. It's about evil and how easy it can be to slip over the line. It's about colonialism. It raises questions about the costs and satisfactions of revenge. It's about friendship and love. It's about the humanity of those being continually stomped on.

Khair's story is placed in Victorian London, but the issues he taps into remain relevant.
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Nivedita Barve
The setting of this novel is nineteenth century London, a place thrumming with the tensions between the natives from the different lands that the British colonize, and the natives of the great city itself. Times are changing, the perception that humans hold about their origin are changing, and this new consciousness brings with it an unease, kinks into the fiber of the social life. Lord Batterstone and Captain Meadows, two men engaged in the study of Phrenology – a science pertaining to study of ...more
Blandine Longre
C’est depuis la bibliothèque de son grand-père, à Phansa, petite ville imaginaire de l’état indien du Bihar, qu’un narrateur anonyme bâtit « le fantôme d’une histoire vraie », la trame d’une intrigue qui débute à Londres en 1837, à la veille du couronnement de la reine Victoria : à partir d’ouvrages divers (réels ou fictifs), d’une coupure de presse datée de 1839, d’un manuscrit épistolaire rédigé en persan et de ses propres réminiscences, le narrateur tisse des récits enchâssés qui enjambent te ...more
Tony
Gruesome beheadings! The infamous Thugee cult! A young man Indian man in Victorian London! This all sounds like great fodder for a fun mystery/adventure story, and I was predisposed to like this book due to these elements. Unfortunately, although I more or less enjoyed this book well enough, it never quite fulfilled my expectations. One issue is that the book is told through three different narrative lines: a young man (the author) in contemporary India who is poking around his grandfather's old ...more
Mythili
A gang of killers is on the loose in Victorian London, taking the lives—and the severed heads—of the city’s lowlife. The press spins tales of cannibalism to further terrorize the public, never suspecting the gang’s real motive is money. The killers collect skulls because they are paid handsomely for their work. Their patron is the wealthy Lord Batterstone, a high-society phrenologist obsessed with expanding his anatomical collection. But the newspapers turn the public’s attention toward Amir Ali ...more
Deepa Agarwal
A masterpiece of a novel, which travels between contemporary and colonial India to Victorian London. The author knits not only fact and fiction, but also the varying strands of his story together with compelling ease.
Tabish Khair's prose is finely wrought and the variation in narrative voice provides the reader with the perspective demanded by this complex tale. The gruesomely fascinating face of nineteenth century London's underbelly is as vividly depicted as that of rural India.
This is not a
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Sara Habein
In some ways, the darker elements and seeing the killer's point-of-view reminded me of Patricia Highsmith's work, though she did not set any of her stories (that I know of) in Victorian times. The methodical way everyone justifies their bad behavior, killer or not, is also very much like her. The difference is that Khair doesn't write with underlying disdain for society. There is still an element of magic, though not the fantastical kind. It's magic in the form of hope, the willful suspension of ...more
Joaquin
Book: The Thing About Thugs
Date Finished: February 9, 2014

Thoughts: It is interesting to note that I was reading this novel someone came up to me and said that the word thug came from the Indian language. The more I read about it, the more I realized why the title was chosen for this book.

The name gives it away, but the story is about a group of thugs that create havoc in India. Amir Babu known by others as Amir Ali, decides to take revenge and then fleeing the country. He arrives in Victorian
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Victoria
A multi-narrator, multi-layered story of a series of grisly beheadings in 19th century London that embroils phrenologists, Indian lascars, underground Mole people (maybe), a self-promoting journalist, a passel of drunk Irishmen, and a baffled police detective in trying to find the perpetrators. It also jumps back and forth in time. I became confused. A “the lady or the tiger” ending wasn’t very satisfactory, either. But some beautiful writing, like this: “With dawn now limning the horizon, the d ...more
Heather
The thing about The Thing about Thugs that's most pleasing to me is the way it's told, the way the narrative perspective and style shifts. There's the first-person narration of a present-day author-figure who finds a bundle of notes from the mid-1800s in his grandfather's library in India: the notes are in Farsi and are accompanied by a newspaper clipping about a disappeared English nobleman and a pamphlet about the gruesome murder of a woman in London. Then there's the story that author tells, ...more
Blue
Thank you Goodreads First Reads for the advanced readers copy of The Thing about Thugs.

Thugs was a great read. Sure, there isn't much of a mystery; we know who is doing what and why. The fascinating aspect of Thugs is the life of the street riffraff and immigrants in London, the mix of cultures and languages in the bustling city, and the historical backdrop. I felt like I was reading a subdued Rushdie, except the events were taking place in London, though part of the narration originates in Indi
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Lakis Fourouklas
I wouldn’t call The Thing about Thugs simply a crime novel, at least not in the traditional meaning of the term; it is so much more: a historic novel, a literary mystery, a meeting between the present and the past, and kind of a fairytale.

What one mostly enjoys in this book is not the suspense, even if there’s plenty, and it’s not the fast-pace, since it reads like a stroll in the park; it’s the setting, the writing and the characters that make all the difference.

The author doesn’t seem to be ve
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Kate  K. F.
The Thing about Thugs was a book that I wanted to like a lot better than I actually did. I loved the idea of seeing Victorian England through the eyes of a Indian character as too many stories about this era forget how multicultural London was at that time. The opening conceit of the modern day writer finding the letters, diary of Amir Ali and putting them together with the book about thugs by Captain Meadowes was intriguing as well as providing some of the most striking imagery. As the author s ...more
Jeffrey Balch
I was fortunate enough to receive this book from one of Goodread’s First Reads giveaways.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was different to what I was expecting, though. By the description, I was thinking The Thing About Thugs was going to be a murder mystery. It wasn’t. Within the first few chapters, the reader is told who is doing the murdering and why they’re doing it. If you’re looking for a good mystery, this is probably not the book for you.

If you enjoy historical fiction, however,
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Nranger7
Very disappointing. This book had great potential but the author really let me down with the slow-moving story and horrible lack of an ending. One of the characters even said "never unravel a knot unless you know where the loose ends go" and Tabish Khair clearly didn't know where most of his loose ends went. So many backstories of the lower class people were hinted at but never explained. Granted, it was likely some crappy metaphor for their class being invisible, but the book would have been SO ...more
John Brooke
This is a weird and often very wise book that has been well received and justly so. Set in Victorian London, it is a tale acutely depicting the delusions of Empire and the struggles of the colonized ‘niggers’ who find themselves in the city that is Empire’s epicentre. Sorry for the word – but prejudice and delusion become social via words, and that was the word used to denote anyone whose skin was less than white, be they from Africa, Asian sub-continent or West Indies. The word exemplifies a gr ...more
R.
There are a lot of framing devices: someone reading the notes in the margins of an old book and visualizing the past, newspaper articles, letters, characters' thoughts, and so on. This technique was really useful for showing how different people perceived situations differently (the phrenology-based study of Ali's history as a thug vs. Ali's actual story, for example), which was, in turn, a good way to look at relationships between people as divided by class, ethnicity, education, etc. But there ...more
Aiyana
An excellent novel. Set in Victorian England, this macabre tale of murder, mystery, deception, and detection subtly parodies the beliefs of the times, teasing out details from the worlds of Dickens and Doyle and portraying them in a new light. This is a literary narrative in many voices, but primarily the voice of an Indian immigrant with a surprising past and an uncertain future. Though the story is at times brutal, the intensity of the storytelling is incredibly compelling. I found this book a ...more
Shaheen Ashraf-Ahmed
There were moments of greatness in this book, some fantastic writing, but it never quite reached the heights it seemed to promise. The frequent switching between points of view was hard to follow at times, but I understand why the author had written the book this way: truth is never owned by one person, but is often found at some point between various witnesses' accounts. The level of research into 19th century London was really impressive and the concept was unique. However, I found the blatant ...more
Chaitra Hs
Overall it was a good novel with a fresh plot...
The originality and genuineness of the author was apparent....
I really liked the way he handled the concepts of religion and class, which are very controversial in themselves, but were handled very subtly with extreme grace...
According to me,the novel was a commentary on the different classes of society more than anything else...


What put me off a bit was the use of unnecessary flowery language, too many narrators (why the grandson?) and the way the
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Margaret Sankey
In 1840s London, young Amir Ali has successfully escaped a deadly local family land dispute by conning ambitious Captain Meadows into taking him back home to England with promises of revealing his life as a former thugee bandit. Although these are entirely fabricated, Amir becomes the prime suspect when real decapitations start taking place in the East End of London. While Meadows and his prospective father-in-law the Met detective prattle on about their pseudo-science theories of criminal phren ...more
Rayah
I was given a free copy of this book in a First Reads giveaway.

I was confused by The Thing About Thugs for about the first half of the book. In concept, I like the idea of different narrators giving us their perspective on events, and then the readers having to piece together the true story. However, I felt in this case like I didn't know enough about who was speaking each time, and it got confusing.

Once I had that sorted out, the rest of the book was an enjoyable read. The story isn't a mystery
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Tabish Khair was born and educated in Bihar, India. He worked in Delhi as a Staff Reporter until his late twenties and is now a professor at Aarhus University, Denmark. Winner of the All India Poetry Prize, his novels have been shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize (Hong Kong), the Hindu Best Fiction Prize and the Crossword Vodafone Literature Awards (India), the Encore Award (UK) and for t ...more
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“Time is such a cheat. The more importance you give it, the less you have of it.” 3 likes
“Reason is not a tyrannical God like Allah, or a bloodthirsty demon like Bhowanee; Reason does not speak in my ears but gives me ears to listen with.” 1 likes
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