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Category: Literary Critiques

Narcopolis (Jeet Thayil)

“….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 latter subsuming the former, to evoke the sort of nihilistic profoundness that so many writers seek to achieve. Thayil writes in short phantasmagorical dreamscapes giving the narrative a fleeting, ephemeral quality and brings the subterranean nooks and crannies of the city to the forefront, the Shuklaji Street with its decadent opium dens and prostitute houses. This is obviously not a complete picture of the city; it is in fact about the overlooked parts of the city; the parts only few know about, most want to ignore and some want to forget.

However, around a 100 pages in, I was slightly concerned whether the book was merely a stylistic exercise, a look-how-coolly-I-will-depict-the-state-of-being-drugged sort of a book; the prose version of Kashyap’s kinetic visuals of Dev D tripping in the eponymous movie. But the author slowly builds up human relationships, fragile and subtle ones, that are as much there as they are not, but definite bonds between these addicts and suppliers (who are again addicts themselves) and those around. We start empathising with them; their problems become our own and their dilemmas our own. Towards the end of the book, the prose also acquires a elegiac quality as it quietly laments the loss of cultures swept aside by the tides of civilisation and the loss of people to nasha; these people who had festered in their hallucinations and lived by their primal instincts in their small, little world in the megapolis; a bubble like world oblivious to outside influence – except when a riot happens – and the oblivion in itself. As a pimp observes during one of the umpteen opium fuelled conversations, this book is about people who “got fucked and fucked up.By the end, each one of the addicts is dead, many for the choices they make and consumed by the vicissitudes of the life they lead, except for a couple, in the inexorable sweep of time. This book is also a lot about memory in an unassuming way, a theme it keeps playing on repeatedly, be it in the troubled dreams of the characters or their troubled pasts. All this draws us in. Some of them leap out and it hurts when characters, we develop an affinity to, pass away. When people die, their memories come alive. Narcopolis rises above its material and is a dazzling, haunting read.

On Amsterdam

McEwan writes well and the two books I have read of his – this and The Comfort of Strangers – maintain splendidly a simmering undercurrent of unease and tension that comes to the fore in the end.In fact the ending of Amsterdam is serene as compared to The Comfort…which spirals to a visceral denouement.This kind of writing is the antithesis of the mass produced thriller that directly appeals to and appeases the adrenaline.It plays subtly on the frazzled nerves of the reader; even the intelligent one who knows all is not hunky dory and is kept guessing till the end.The plotting is straightforward, revolving around two major protagonists who are linked by a late common lover, but it is the writing that elevates it.McEwan wades through the moral morass that the protagonists fall into with a light touch. The narrative mostly flows from the internal thoughts of Clive and Vernon and this is an exceptional way to keep the reader engaged with their most intimate thoughts.

The prose is crisp and elegant and the book ends when it should.

Books:Q & A(Vikas Swarup)

Q & A adapted into the hugely successful Slumdog Millionaire is what the Americans call a beach read.With its racy narrative that combines some striking vignettes and travails of the poor the book actually never takes itself seriously.This itself is the single biggest flaw in the book.But if one is ready to brush it aside as insignificant then there is a interesting premise and an even more interesting tale to chew on.The book mainly focuses on the personal journey of Ram Mohammed Thomas from his nondescript existence to becoming the winner of Who Will Win A Billion?The storytelling is non-linear and shifts back and forth to reveal how the protagonist is helped by incidents that happened  in his life to answer the questions.

Vikas Swarup manages a stranglehold over the reader right from the start with something or the other happening-a new revelation….a twist..He keeps them coming to leave the reader breathless.The tantalising storytelling is mighty effective since it keeps one guessing as to what   next question be?

Q & A makes it clear right from the start that it is not a literary escapade that would possess beautiful literary phrases or stunning poetic language.If that’s what you are looking for then keep off.

The cinematic appeal of the book is immense and it has rightly been made into a film.Books like this and those written by Michael Crichton(Jurassic Park,Disclosure,Next etc),Dan Brown(Da Vinci Code) among others lend themselves well into a cinema story.

Vikas Swarup makes a spectacular debut with Q&A and exhibits his more than ample story telling skills thrilling and tantalising the reader.An enjoyable read.

My Rating-Three Cheers!!!

PS:I must mention that I hadn’t watched the movie before reading the book.

Books:The White Tiger(Aravind Adiga)

The White Tiger is a stinging,sordid saga narrated in an unrelenting almost nauseating fashion.The book traces the life of one Balram Halwai whose struggles with life and cathartic comeuppance make for a brisk and riveting tale.The narration is carried forward by Balram himself who narrates his story by way of a letter to Wen Jiabao,the Premier of China.Adiga throws in the usual caste issues,slimy politicians,ruthless landlords and more into the blend to conjure a dark and deprecating narrative that hits it hard where it hurts the most.

The books novelty lies in the brazen nonchalant way Adiga spins his tale throwing subtlety to the winds.This makes the narrative simple and uncomplicated but magnifies the stench and slime.The crudeness of language is claustrophobic at times.Unrelenting is the word as the writer never slackens the grip he gains once he puts the reader through the tumultuous strands of his story.

The writer’s eye for detail and observation are commendable for the way he pitches in things that are highly common and makes them look well highly uncommon.The humour is a brooding undercurrent and stands out-Its omnipresent and generous.If you are looking for refined prose then this is not the book for you.In fact the crude language can even put one off but I trudged relentlessly to finish the book.

The White Tiger is a book that appeals to the gut rather than the mind.Believe me I felt relieved as soon as I finished it.Here I want to share an interesting thought that struck me midway through the book.Reading The White Tiger was akin to watching the Sanjay Leela Bhansali directed Black.You mightn’t want to read it again.One might savour it since shows the triumph of the underdog and is a perfect partner in crime for Slumdog Millionaire;the flavour of the season.It’s bleak bleak out there.

My Rating-Three Cheers!!!