Jeet Thayil on Man Booker shortlist

Writer Jeet Thayil with his first novel ‘Narcopolis’.  

Four years after Aravind Adiga’s famous "Guildhall triumph", another Indian writer is in the race for the £50,000 Man Booker Prize: Jeet Thayil.

The noted 53-year-old Kerala-born poet and novelist has been shortlisted for this year’s award for his debut novel, Narcopolis, a dark tale about the opium and heroin dens of Mumbai thought to be based on his own experiences of what one critic described as the city’s "seedy underbelly".

The novel has been hailed as a "blistering debut" with The Guardian comparing it to the likes of William Burroughs’s Junky and Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater.

Mr. Thayil , who survived a cull of 12-strong longlist, will go head-to-head with such literary heavyweights as Hilary Mantel, a previous Booker winner, and Will Self.

Ms. Mantel, shortlisted for Bring Up the Bodies - a sequel to Wolf Hall which won a Booker in 2009 - was promptly installed as the bookies’ favourite, with Mr. Self a close second for his much-acclaimed Umbrella.

If Mr. Thayil goes on to win, he will join a select band of Indian or India-born Booker winners such as Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai and Aravind Adiga.

Others, who figure in the shortlist announced on Tuesday, are Tan Twan Eng ( The Garden of Evening Mists), Deborah Levy ( Swimming Home), and Alison Moore ( The Lighthouse).

Peter Stothard, Editor of The Times Literary Supplement who chaired the judges, said the books were selected for their "pure power of prose".

The panel, which comprised academic and writer Bharat Tandon, historian Amanda Foreman, critic Dinah Birch and actor Dan Stevens, was "exhilarated by the vigour and vividly defined values".

"After re-reading an extraordinary longlist of twelve, it was the pure power of prose that settled most debates. We loved the shock of language shown in so many different ways and were exhilarated by the vigour and vividly defined values in the six books that we chose – and in the visible confidence of the novel's place in forming our words and ideas," he said.

Pointing out that the judges were "considering novels, not novelists", Sir Peter disclosed that it took them barely three-and-a-half hours to finalise the list.

Michael Frayn and Nicola Barker were among the big names that failed to make it.

A self-confessed former drug addict, Mr. Thayil described Narcopolis in an interview as “Bombay’s secret history” as distinct from its “official” history of “money and glamour.” “You can sanitise…as much as you like, but…can’t get rid of the grime,” he told the interviewer.

The winner will be announced at a glittery event at London’s Guildhall on October 16.

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 11:44:37 AM |

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