Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Narcopolis” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating


3.36 of 5 stars 3.36  ·  rating details  ·  3,595 ratings  ·  542 reviews
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 ...more
ebook, 304 pages
Published April 1st 2012 by Penguin Books (first published January 31st 2012)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Narcopolis, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Narcopolis

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Narcopolis isn't so much a story as a non-linear network of little stories and vignettes: a sort of tapestry of pieces of fiction and character studies. The characters include an opium/heroin addict who initially acts as narrator (although the narrative soon wanders away from him and takes on a life of its own), several opium den 'entrepreneurs', a eunuch prostitute and a degenerate poet-slash-artist. Set in Bombay, and more specificially on Shuklaji Street where Rashid's opium house is located, ...more
text: from Latin textus "style or texture of a work," literally "thing woven," from past participle stem of texere "to weave,"
An ancient metaphor: thought is a thread, and the raconteur is a spinner of yarns -- but the true storyteller, the poet, is a weaver.
(From the Online Etymology Dictionary)

So, the storyteller spins a yarn, but the poet creates a fabric, with warp and weft, with coloured threads craftily juxtaposed to make a pattern, whether as sumptuous as damask, as regimented as tartan
Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
20. Pearl Ruled (p129)

Rating: 3* of five

The Publisher Says: 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 generati
Lit Bug
Set in the city of Bombay and spanning a time-frame from 1970s to 2004 as we listen to the narrator, just back from the U.S. as he goes about on Shuklaji Street, following the lives of the under-belly of the the chaos that is Bombay, from the hijra Dimple/Zeenat, Rashid, the khanawala, the sensational painter Xavier to Lalaji and Rumi, other lesser-characters that make up the streets, the squalor, the underside of the glittering city, Narcopolis is a pastiche of vignettes that build up the pictu ...more
“Because now there's time enough not to hurry, to light the lamp and open the window to the moon and take a moment to dream of a great and broken city, because when the day starts its business I'll have to stop, these are night-time tales that vanish in the sunlight like vampire dust”
This will be a fairly short review – as I don’t want to spend too much time talking about a book I disliked. I stopped short of hating it – just – but I certainly didn’t like it. The writing is good - in places very
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Another one from the 2012 Booker shortlist.

Publisher summary:
Shuklaji Street, in Old Bombay. In Rashid's opium room the air is thick and potent. A beautiful young woman leans to hold a long-stemmed pipe over a flame, her hair falling across her dark eyes. Around her, men sprawl and mutter in the gloom, each one drifting with his own tide. Here, people say that you introduce only your worst enemy to opium.

Outside, stray dogs lope in packs. Street vendors hustle. Hookers call for custom through th
Narcotic Nonsense

When Mr. Thayil started working on this debut novel, he was around fifty years old, had released four collections of poetry, two decades of addiction under his belt. So, it has all the intellectual questions he had or heard and almost all the things he came across in Bombay. More than a novel, it is a handful of short stories and a few essays of Mumbai's dark alleys.

To give credit where it is due, whenever the narration is in descriptive nature, whether it is Shuklaji Street, Op
I was really looking forward to reading Narcopolis. Jeet Thayil was himself an addict for 20 years, and the book is an insider's account of Bombay's drug scene.

That Thayil is an excellent writer is apparent in the first few pages. His style though, is gratingly monotonous. The writing can only hold your attention for so long. Ultimately the plot and the characters need to generate enough interest to make you want to carry on. I finished Narcopolis and realized that I felt nothing about any chara
A very strange book indeed. In fact, I'd say I've never read anything like it before.

Jeet Thayil's Booker-nominated novel starts out in Bombay of the 1970s, when the narrator Dom Ullis arrives in the city, having been deported back to India from the States on account of his substance abuse problems. He meets a multitude of different characters like Dimple the eunuch, Newton Xavier the painter, Rumi the frustarted married man & many others at Rashidbhai's chandu khana (opium den) in Shuklaji
As Mark Staniforth, fellow Shadow Juror for the Man Asian Literary Prize, wittily remarked in his review, it’s a fair guess that Jeet Thayil’s ‘Narcopolis’ is unlikely to nudge its way onto Oprah’s summer reading list any time soon. This tale from the underbelly of 1970s Bombay is about as squalid as it can get. But – longlisted it for the 2012 Booker, and now shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize – it is strangely compelling, luring the reader in, mimicking the way opium seduces the book ...more
Sridhar Reddy
Three and a half stars. Jeet Thayil's 'Narcopolis' contains some of the most vividly realized characters I've ever come across in a book. Deeply felt and complex, they each weave in and out of reality and consciousness, bound by an endless stream of narcotics and the den that serves to encapsulate the crushed ambitions of a city full of dreamers.

Thayil's prose is both poetic and raw, his wordplay masterful and yet his subject matter abhorrent. It's a vivid juxtaposition that mirrors the drug ex
Amit Shetty

Eunuchs...Prostitutes...Drugs...Sex...More Drugs...More Sex

This is what the entire book deals with. It is a nostalgic account of a man who lived in the 70's era of Bombay, where drugs, prostitution and corruption ran rampant. Not much different from now, except everything here now occurs under a veil of secrecy.

The author has done quite a good job of describing the Bombay of that era. How people were carefree during those days, enjoying the simpler things in life unlike today where time and mon
Feb 04, 2014 Muthulakshmi rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Muthulakshmi by: nobody
I almost gave up on the book. Almost. No, wipe off that shit-eating grin; I am not going to say "..but I am glad I didn't". I finished it to prove a point.

Okay, fine. there was no point. I pushed through 79% so I finished it all because I am a wuss like that.

That said, the book isn't a complete disaster. The prose is free flowing and all-out brilliant. Which is high praise coming from someone who refuses to read On the road for the exact same reason (I'm Kerouac and punctuation is like so arac
I guess one conclusion we might draw from the first sentence of "Anna Karenina" is that there are many more unhappy stories to be told than happy ones. Fair enough. Despite a rather optimistic outlook, I don't mind slogging through the grim and the sad, as any scan of the list of novels below will surely demonstrate. But, recent reads are taking unhappiness to a new height--or I guess I should say depth. Anyway, we now take a step into the drug scene in Mumbai right at the time things were chang ...more
“Truth is Heroin is Beauty.”
-Narcopolis, Jeet Thayil.

At first glance, Narcopolis is a novel about drugs. At second glance, it is a novel about lust. At third, it is a novel about Bombay. And, when the reader finishes the last breathtaking page of Jeet Thayil’s debut Man Booker long-lister, Narcopolis will again have transformed into being about something else entirely.

So goes the magic of a great book.

In an interview with NPR, Thayil speaks with a poet’s voice: confidant and yet careful, giving
Chris Craddock
Bombay sounds like quite an astonishing place, as described by author Jeet Thayil in his first novel, Narcopolis. 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."

While I did notice
Ben Babcock
I don’t abandon books lightly, but it had to be done. If I hadn’t borrowed enough books from the library that I have to read about 1 per day to finish them before I move to England, I definitely would have finished this. I don’t think I would have liked it, mind you, but it’s not horrible enough to abandon.

I should have paid attention to Jeet Thayil’s biography. Poets-turned-novelist rarely work for me. Their emphasis of style over substance and urge to be “experimental” in that style often leav
Carolyn Stevens Shank
Jeet Thayil's NARCOPOLIS has made the Booker Award short list for best book of 2012, and I can certainly see why. Set partially in a 1970's Bombay opium den , its characters include a eunuch, a poet, gangsters, pimps, prostitutes, atheists, the maimed, unwashed, unwanted and unloved -- and the haunted. They are Muslim, Hindu, and Christian. Thayil's Bombay, before the age of technology reinvented it, is that of a poverty-ridden, deteriorating society, one which is an almost exact parallel to th ...more
Shaheen Ashraf-Ahmed
This was a major disappointment. It started off strong; the opening tells you how competent the author is as a writer. Where the book fails, is in making you care about any of the characters, beyond a slight sympathy for Dimple. Most of the book is written from the point of view of one character or another who is about to get high/is high/is coming down from being high, and that vantage point gets tiresome really fast. We are taken in a no-holds-barred tour of the drug addict's life in Bombay, a ...more
Terri Jacobson
This book has been nominated for the Man Asian Literary Prize, and I was expecting a lot from it. The story takes place in Bombay from the late 1970s to the 1990s. Most of the action centers on an opium den and the characters that gather there. The plot and characters are interesting but not engrossing. It's a good but not great novel, at least for this reader.
This wasn't so much a "read" as a "DNF" - the plot, such as it is, centers around a 1970s opium den in Bombay (at least that's where most of the 100-ish pages I got through are centered), and we start to meet Dimple, a eunuch, and Mr. Lee, the Chinese owner of the den. As one might expect from this setting, the prose is somewhat hallucinatory and the timeline non-linear.

The problem wasn't that so much as that there was no narrator or, for me, another hook to bring me into the story. I kept wonde
This book snuck up on me -- I didn't really like the beginning -- there was some pretentious stuff about art and religion that didn't really work for me, and writing the surreal dreams of the drugged needs to be done exceptionally skillfully or it just reads as self-indulgent and annoying. But after a rough beginning, I got sucked in -- the episodes in China were great, and Dimple, Rumi and Rashid emerge as strong, fascinating characters, and the host of supporting characters are also compelling ...more
Sahasranaman M S
The prose was very good, surreal and enjoyable. The characters felt honest and their delusions, desires and perspectives were very understandable. The book tells you a lot about the lives of drug addicts, and we can see how the delusions start, how they affect the character and how far they can go, but only if we are conscious and don't get carried away with the amazing prose.

Despite all the drugs and the other people, Pathar maar - the stone killer - a serial killer who kills people sleeping on
Samir Dhond
My intent behind picking up this book to read was to check it out. The book is nominated for the "Man Booker Prize 2012." Moreover,I was quite curious about the topic. Substance abuse in Mumbai. Having lived in that city for many years, I had seen many people around me doing drugs. They were even visible on the railway tracks. I wanted to find out if Jeet Thayil had found the nuances of the city. He certainly has. The other aspect that interested me about the book was that it was written by a pe ...more
Damien D'Enfer
After reading some of the reviews below I feel compelled to add my two cents. This may not be a pretty world Thayil creates, but guess what? Worlds like this exist. I should know.

As an ex-heroin addict myself, I vouch 100% for Thayil's depiction of the life of addicts. Whether they are in India, NYC, New Orleans, etc., there are certain things that make the experience universal. Thayil writes about the desperation, enslavement, degradation, beauty and poetry of the addict's life with mastery. Bu
Srikanth Mantravadi
“….my knees dissolved in the anhydride rush that disconnects neurons from nerve endings, obliterates bone and tissue, and removes anxiety by removing all possibility of pain. I thought: If pain is the thing shared by all living creatures then I’m no longer human or animal or vegetal; I am unplugged from the tick of metabolism; I am mineral.”

Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis is a haze of a book where illusion and delusion wash over reality, sometimes the former consuming the latter and sometimes the latte
Ampat Varghese
This is a REAL book, a brilliant one written in a tradition that very few Indian writers in English can handle. It is an opium pipe-dream located in multiple realities brought to life by myriad fascinating characters in the city of Bombay with interludes in New York and China. It brings living to life in the tradition of the surrealists, Cocteau, Blake, and the Pathar Maar (serial stone-killer, strangely enough, reminded me of the central character in Colin Wilson's Ritual in the Dark. But that ...more
Neelima Vinod
I think I'll go back to this one...the history of substance abuse combines with the history of a city. Dimple is a character one empathizes with- things happen to her, she happens to be in an unlucky place and she lives through it with as much dignity as she can.

Narcopolis makes you sad. People are revealed as semi-human, more dependent on instinct. When Thayil describes the doped out feeling "I am mineral." he reveals that he is always a poet first.

I love this book for Mr Lee, the obscure Chin
Satyabrat Mishra
Aug 09, 2013 Satyabrat Mishra rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All the bookworms who have given up on modern Indian literature.
Shelves: favorites
After putting down the book, I heaved a sigh of relief. All is not lost for modern Indian literature. After all those Chetan Bhagats and Chetan Bhagat wannabes comes a delightful tale set in the time Bombay was a city bent on killing itself; and with it the men who has sold their gods for the O.

The plot, the character depth and the narration styles are brilliant but the opium laced lines that spit out images as surreal as the lines of Rushdie and Marquez stand out in the entire book.

I loved rea
An odd book but rather compelling. I really enjoyed it. I wavered a bit part of the way through but it got back on track and I'm pleased I read it. The characters are well written, quite complex and not stereotypical. It doesn't pull any punches and is quite explicit about opium smoking and prostitution. There is an undercurrent of very dark,black humour in places. It felt quite surreal in places too in terms of overall story but the places and characters felt very real. If that's a bit contradi ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Chaos Reading: NARCOPOLIS -- Karen's Challenge 15 85 Jun 22, 2014 03:36PM  
Narcopolis:A Novel of Contemporary History 1 8 Jun 21, 2014 07:01AM  
21st Century Lite...: Form and Content in Narcopolis 3 34 Aug 29, 2013 02:12AM  
21st Century Lite...: Book Four/Overall General Comments 6 27 May 24, 2013 08:15AM  
21st Century Lite...: Book Three General Comments 10 22 May 24, 2013 02:49AM  
21st Century Lite...: Prologue/Book One General Comments 26 37 May 23, 2013 03:18PM  
  • Communion Town
  • The Lighthouse
  • Umbrella
  • The Yips
  • Swimming Home
  • Skios
  • Philida
  • The Garden of Evening Mists
  • The Teleportation Accident
  • I'll Go to Bed at Noon
  • C
  • The Lives of Others
  • Hawthorn & Child
  • In Custody
  • The Illicit Happiness of Other People
  • In a Strange Room
  • Pigeon English
  • The Quickening Maze
Jeet Thayil (born 1959 in Kerala) is an Indian poet, novelist, librettist and musician. He is best known as a poet and is the author of four collections: These Errors Are Correct (Tranquebar, 2008), English (2004, Penguin India, Rattapallax Press, New York, 2004), Apocalypso (Ark, 1997) and Gemini (Viking Penguin, 1992). His first novel, Narcopolis, (Faber & Faber, 2012), was shortlisted for t ...more
More about Jeet Thayil...
English: Poems [With CD] The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets These Errors Are Correct 60 Indian Poets Vox: New Indian Fiction

Share This Book

“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.” 27 likes
“Then there are the addicts, the hunger addicts, the rage addicts, the poverty addicts , and power addicts, and the pure addicts who are addicted not to substances but to the oblivion and the tenderness the substances engender. An addict, if you don't mind me saying so, is like a saint. What is a saint but someone who has cut himself off, voluntarily, from the world's traffic and currency.” 25 likes
More quotes…