She is a tease. A big one, for, at least, the first portion of the novel.
The novel opens to a petition from a certain landlord to the government. FolShe is a tease. A big one, for, at least, the first portion of the novel.
The novel opens to a petition from a certain landlord to the government. Following this is the author who explains to us, apologetic sometimes, sometimes not, about the unconventional route of the storytelling. Whether this is so or not, we will see in due time. Nevertheless, the first fifty pages of metafiction is the author-narrator grappling with the elements of the story, while showing us her failed attempts of conventional methods to say the same story (p.33).
She talks about Zizek, Derrida (Schmerrida), Marx, she talks about the various cultural idiosyncrasies of the Tamil people, she talks about her previous poems and how they were burnt, she talks about not wanting this book to be burnt.
Finally, the story starts, but the author-narrator keeps pulling me, the reader, from the depths of the story and reminds me of her presence, which I felt irritating and counter-productive to the reader's enjoyment. Note on a bottle of concentrated metafiction: use sparingly, do not apply to private parts.
There is even a question-and-answer section right in the middle of the book in which Meena defends her jerky narrative. This part was enjoyable and innovative, and I am unable to find any precendents (p.67).
Before I go on to the listing of many different narrative styles in this book, I must confirm that after a point the author-narrator disappears for good. She gradually goes away as the story gathers momentum. There is no climatic twist, but then as A. Roy says, "the best stories are one's with known endings and yet we choose to listen."
A blow out of the many different narratives:
The juicy, fleshy part of the novel is that the author is ever fresh when it comes to shifting tracks in narratives, and this is the most enjoyable part of reading this novel (and for plagiarizing to use in your own work.)
Listing the NOTS: with this, the author tells us what is NOT happening, but in this way, we are told what else COULD happen. p.52,101.
Unnamed characters: throughout the novel, there is a lack of clear matching between names and characters. There are a lot of characters and lot of names, and this conjures an image of piling up of bodies even before this happens literally in the novel.
Saramago: the latter part of the novel is sarcastic and tragic, a style markedly similar to Saramago's in Raised from the Ground, which was also about peasants and their struggle. I enjoyed this coincidence (?).
Enumerating the dead: the body count is portrayed in an innovative manner of seemingly impersonal tone of just listing them out, while the list and the little details in it are aimed at affecting the reader in its realism and absence of explicit emotional outbursts (similar to Bolaño,2666) (pg.150).
Raw narrative footage: after the Tragedy, a character talks about it to the author-narrator. The entire chapter (p.167) is characteristic of the many Tamil news anchors who interview such tragedies, in which interviewee goes on a breathless, visually evocative, unfiltered recollection of What Happened. (p.167)
Second person narrative: the epilogue (p.259) takes you through the aftermath of the anticlimax of the justice. This part is particularly well-done for its social commentary of forgetfulness and exploitation of tragedy that is all too common in today's journalistic world. (p.259)
There are many more such gems of narrative wisdom all through the book that one could hunt by reading again and again. It is, in a lot of ways, similar to Midnight's Children and The God of Small Things, in that it has a marked irreverence to known narrative forms (and it has more than fifty annotations in my copy.) This much the author-narrator herself admits: "...what happened to the rules of a novel? They are hanging on my clothesline over there." (pg.128)...more
I would have given it three stars but the experience of reading it was more than compensating for the open structure of the entire novel. I do believeI would have given it three stars but the experience of reading it was more than compensating for the open structure of the entire novel. I do believe the novel was never intended to tell you a specific story. I'm no literary critic, so I'll shut up about that. ...more
I had high hopes for this book. Where did I first acquaint with it? It was… a magazine interview with Jeet Thayil, that was followed by quick internetI had high hopes for this book. Where did I first acquaint with it? It was… a magazine interview with Jeet Thayil, that was followed by quick internet searches of him which finally ended with ordering this book on Amazon.
The first chapter is a five page long sentence, though crafty, is mostly phrases connected by commas, a shotgun approach that gives away everything to the reader in snatches and images while also acquainting us to the narrator. A clever way to start a book that’s about drugs - a rush of images and jumps from one location to another.
The book starts off with an expert narrative that disguises the true nature of the protagonist by not hiding it. It gives it to you but doesn’t draw you to the facts again and again as is the norm to impression the reader with certain details. By not doing this, by giving the reader little tidbits of the characters, a certain crescendo is reached somewhere after fifty pages where things suddenly become more clear. I found it Faulkner-ish and delighting.
I had an expectation that this was the method of storytelling the writer is going to employ throughout the novel. I expected interludes of confusing narratives and seemingly inane-ness, followed by a high wave when things are revealed. The intermediate narrative about Lee seemed out of place but I expected a tying together which never happened. The novel was initially six hundred pages long apparently and was cut down because Indian publishers wouldn’t accept it (that’s what they think of us – idiots incapable of reading books more than two hundred pages.) Maybe the tying together happened in those lost three hundred pages, maybe they happened on the writer’s mind and of some select readers’, maybe I’m too rich to understand it, but I was expecting more pedagogy and control from the writer, and possibly a conclusion to what the book was about. It was about opium, yes, it was about poverty, yes, it was a gonzo look into the drug underworld of Bombay, sure, but is it wrong to ask for a little bit more?
Many have complained that the characters are not memorable. Whether this was intentional or not, only Jeet knows. I was away from the book for a couple of days and I couldn’t get back to it. The characters seemed cardboardish and I ended up starting over. I was willing to do it because in Jeet I trusted. And he did not let me down. I was rewarded with a poetic prose, sometimes sarcastic and funny, sometimes genuine, sometimes disgusting. Nevertheless the more memorable characters of Newton Xavier and Dom didn’t get a foreground in the story. Especially Newton Xavier. He was singular in the narrative and pumped it up but was quickly gone. I do believe Jeet’s upcoming book, The Sex Lives of Saints is about Newton Xavier (ref: Jeet Thayil mentioned in an interview that the book was about one of the characters from Narcopolis.)
Minor qualms and nitpickings: The narrative of Mr. Lee moved slow and blandly, from one thing to next. The only high parts were memorable images of an insect that is Lee’s father holding the pipe and the aptness with which it conveys the entire drug addict situation. There is an abundance of ‘he saw’, ‘he noticed’, ‘was doing’, ‘was happening’, ‘was made’ (p.105-109) and ‘had been’, ‘had changed’ (p.109). It’s jarring, timid and unlike the strong narrative with which the book started. Maybe this was intentional to show the scenes in a certain slow way from Lee’s view. Or maybe it was something the editor missed. The inconsistency in the narrative style is twined with the story itself, maybe. ...more