January 08, 2012

Notes on Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis

A critic wrote that reading Narcopolis is “an experience much like waiting for a really long goods-train to trundle by” and I think yes, but what a goods-train. There is a narrative told by a pipe more than by its human narrator the pipe once consumed (what a beautiful form, ouroboros), and an “I” with a lyric consciousness dispersed until it can purvey many states of knowing; there is a beautiful North-Eastern hijra as heroine; there is a love story; there are many love stories, and the dead are often loved enough to be wanted returned; there are ways in which the dead return; there are words and stories and pages and pages about reading; this is a book about reading; there is reading that comes to life as dreams, and vice versa; (and memories); there are dreams; there are dreams that have found what they have to say; there is language that prefers to blacken its eyes in the shadows; there is a shadow of poetry around its eyes; there are genres tongueless also tongue-in-cheek; there is an audience that finds the Modern Autists of India incomprehensible, or at least good for getting information about American visas; there are saints and addicts; there is ruination; there is despair and suffocation; of course there is self-loathing—and self-redemption; there is history that is familiar and dismal, unfamiliar and appalling; there is a city.

Narcopolis tells you how you must read it.
Over the next few days he would pick it up and read as many pages as he could before sadness got the better of him and he put it away. (95)