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  1. Narcopolis, Jeet Thayil's debut novel, was shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker prize, although as I recall considered a rank outsider to win. It certainly has the kind of elements that might turn the heads of some prize judging panels. It is stylistically experimental, with a first sentence running to six pages, even longer than it seems in the context of what is a fairly short novel. It is epic in scope, covering thirty years in the history of Bombay's (never Mumbai) opium smoking classes, and examining the lives of a variety of characters, from Mr Lee, who flees communist China's Cultural Revolution and winds up running a drug den, to the wealthy high caste Hindi Rumi, Muslim dealer Khaled and the novel's central focus, eunuch prostitute DImple. Thayil's poetic language suits the dreaminess of opiated states, which is occasionally punctuated by hideous squalor and inventive swearing, much like I imagine junkie life itself must be. The novel itself is appropriately plotless, drifting along and tuning in to the stories of Dimple, Khaled, Rumi, Mr Lee and other denizens of Bombay's Shuklaji Street. As a backdrop, we see the city's transformation from 1970s stop on the hippie trail to the dawn of the 21st century, with call centres and night clubs infiltrating the street. Opium moves onto the more damaging heroin and from there to the shiny modernity and narcissism of cocaine. If one wanted to stretch a point, one could argue the changes in Shuklaji Street are meant to reflect the changes in India as a whole during the time span the novel depicts. Narcopolis is probably not a novel for everyone - steer clear if strong language, filth and hard drugs are not to your taste - but has many seductive qualities.
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