Prelapsarian paradise

Narcopolis, by Jeet Thayil, Faber, £12.99, 304 pages

Jeet Thayil’s vigorous and vivid first novel is set largely in the red light districts of 1970s Mumbai. The narrator is Dom, a wistful journalist who tells the stories of the characters with whom he shared the city’s opium dens – Dimple, an orphaned prostitute; Rumi, a louche addict; Rashid, a dealer with old fashioned notions of decency – before harder drugs disrupted their lives.

Thayil has spoken in interviews about his suspicion of the sort of nostalgic Indian fiction that evokes a paradise of monsoons and mangoes, and this is certainly a darker, grittier vision of the subcontinent than one usually encounters. But the author himself seems a little nostalgic when he celebrates a prelapsarian era of benign opium and attentive eunuchs.

Still, this is a compelling, often exhilarating debut. Thayil deftly weaves the various narrative threads, and his overheated, hypertrophied prose invites comparison with the greatest of all narco-novels: William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.