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
Open Preview


3.37  ·  Rating details ·  7,990 ratings  ·  795 reviews
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
Paperback, 292 pages
Published February 2nd 2012 by Faber & Faber (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.
Popular Answered Questions
A SLOW READER 'Chooth' means 'Vagina' or 'Pussy'.…more'Chooth' means 'Vagina' or 'Pussy'.(less)
Teresa It is well worth buying. I would definitely read it again. I like bookshelves with books on them :)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.37  · 
Rating details
 ·  7,990 ratings  ·  795 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Narcopolis
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
Forgetfulness was a gift, a talent to be nurtured.
In the war of remembering and forgetting, what side do we choose? Or do we choose at all? Isn’t life that, which happens when we are busy planning it? In the seductively opiated heavens of narrow-alleyed Bombay, a membrane-like life of a eunuch is stretched between her dreams and reality. The prima donna of a famed whore house, Dimple regales her customers with her melancholic eyes and business-like primness and efficiency. Wallowing silently
May 29, 2020 rated it liked it
This book was Man Booker Prize 2012 long listed. Jeet Thayil creates an eclectic cast of characters tracing their lives in the slums of Bombay through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Deservedly Man Booker long listed, this is a great piece of work looking at the reality of slum life but not dwelling on the misery. Good read. 7 out of 12.
Ankit Garg
Mar 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil presents a vivid picture of the Bombay drug scene, and the life of the people associated with it. The book reads like a collection of stories, with the narrative consistently jumping in the past to cover a character's history for instance. There are instances when the character often slips out of reality and into hallucinations, thanks to the Opium High they are riding on.

One thing I'd like to clarify about this book is that it is not for everyone. The author being a po
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
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 Derus
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
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 Stre
Oct 28, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
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
Sep 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: c21st, india
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
Sep 30, 2012 rated it it was ok
“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
Sep 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
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
With every book you read, you can always find something that went wrong - something you didn't like. When I read Narcopolis, I couldn't find any wrong.

The book had me hooked from the first paragraph. I remember being tired. I had comeback from a long day at work and I had hardly slept the night before. I was ready to sleep at 10. I read the first page and suddenly, it was 1.

I now feel like I need to consume everything that Jeet Thayil has written. EVERYTHING.
24th book for 2018.

A haunting, hallucinatory account of Mumbai's opium drug culture in the 1970s. Written by a ex-addict poet there is a realism here that captures both the beauty and horror of this vanished subculture.

One of my favorite books for the year so far.

Aug 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Jeva Lange
Aug 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
“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
Sridhar Reddy
May 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction-prose
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
Megan Baxter
Aug 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
I wonder if it is that to get a book published when you're an Indian ex-pat author, it needs to be really, really good. I suspect that may be the case, but I have to say that by far and large, the books I've read by authors (mostly men) who come from India have been just so good. Dynamic, interesting, compelling, often very difficult. It'll be a mark of progress when you don't have to be this good to get published, when mediocrity is allowed you the same as it is allowed white authors, but at th ...more
Chris Craddock
Jun 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Prem Sylvester
Nov 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Few can write fiction like Jeet Thayil does. This is a serpentine book, moving in hallucinatory passages between reality and dream. But its dreams are nightmares, its people unholy, its city forever stained. The dark rotting pit into which so many lives fall is its leitmotif, and redemption a fiction. A haunting, murky, and deeply unnerving read 
Damien D'Enfer
Aug 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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, the Decadents and the Beats. The Pathar Maar, a serial killer who used stones to bash in the heads of the homeless on the streets, strangely enough, reminded me ...more
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
Bombay in the 70s, an opium den in a side street off a side street. Obviously druggy af, full of hallucinations and opium/heroin dreams, the stories concern the three staff and their customers, particularly Dimple's adventures, the eunuch (from the age of 8) woman who prepares the pipe and has sex (for money) with some of the regulars. She has a relationship with a Chinese dissident on the run and his story of the thought police in Maoist China, torture and prison, is told in detail, as are many ...more
Sairam Krishnan
Sep 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Now where do I even start?

There's always a problem with these critically acclaimed, highly praised books. You expect something from them, something larger than life, something special, and most of the time you've raised the bar in your head so high that the book can never reach that elevation.

This one will.

Jeet Thayil's 'hallucinatory dream of a novel' as described in one of the blurbs, is exactly that. It is a book that could not have been written; it could only have been lived. It's a meditati
Shaheen Ashraf-Ahmed
Apr 05, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Jan 15, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Sep 30, 2012 rated it it was ok

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
Carolyn Stevens Shank
Sep 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Stephen Durrant
Apr 16, 2013 rated it liked it
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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Demon
  • English, August: An Indian Story
  • Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer
  • The Lives of Others
  • Serious Men
  • Cocaine Nights
  • Porno
  • Em and The Big Hoom
  • Frisk
  • Assuming Names: A Con Artist's Masquerade
  • The Body Reader (Detective Jude Fontaine Mysteries, #1)
  • Sexus (The Rosy Crucifixion, #1)
  • Red Russia
  • The Inheritance of Loss
  • The White Tiger
  • Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India
  • My Idea of Fun
  • Diary of a Drug Fiend
See similar books…
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 the 2 ...more

News & Interviews

  Kerine Wint is a software engineering graduate with more love for books than for computers. As an avid reader, writer, and fan of all things...
19 likes · 10 comments
“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.” 38 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.” 34 likes
More quotes…