Jeet Thayil on Man Booker Prize long-list

The Guardian: his novel Narcopolis is a “blistering debut”

July 26, 2012 01:32 am | Updated November 17, 2021 04:02 am IST - LONDON:

Jeet Thayil, author of 'Narcopolis'

Jeet Thayil, author of 'Narcopolis'

Jeet Thayil, noted Kerala-born poet and novelist, has been long-listed for the 2012 Man Booker Prize for his debut novel Narcopolis , built around the opium and heroin dens of Mumbai.

The Guardian hailed it as a “blistering debut” likening it to William Burroughs’s Junky and Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater .

A self-confessed former drug addict, Mr. Thayil is thought to have drawn on his own experiences of Mumbai’s “seedy underbelly,” as one critic put it. In an interview, he described Narcopolis 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.

Mr. Thayil (53) is among 12 writers long-listed for the £50,000 Prize, arguably the most prestigious literary honour in the English-speaking world.

A shortlist of six will be announced in September, and the winner at London’s Guildhall on October 16.

If Mr. Thayil goes on to win, he will join a select band of India or India-born writers such as Salman Rushdie, Kiran Desai and Aravind Adiga, who have won a Booker.

Others on the list include Nicola Barker for The Yips ; Ned Beauman ( The Teleportation Accident ); André Brink ( Philida ); Tan Twan Eng ( The Garden of Evening Mists ); Michael Frayn ( Skios ); Rachel Joyce ( The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry ); Deborah Levy ( Swimming Home ); Hilary Mantel ( Bring up the Bodies ); Alison Moore ( The Lighthouse ); Will Self ( Umbrella ) and Sam Thompson ( Communion Town ).

Peter Stothard, Editor of The Times Literary Supplement who chaired the judges, described “goodness, madness and bewildering urban change” as the dominant themes of this year’s list

“In an extraordinary year for fiction the ‘Man Booker Dozen’ proves the grip that the novel has on our world. We did not set out to reject the old guard but, after a year of sustained critical argument by a demanding panel of judges, the new has come powering through,” he said.

The list includes four debut novels, three small independent publishers and one previous winner.Mr. Thayil, who spent his early years in Hong Kong and lived in America, returned to India after 9/11. In an interview with him in The Hindu Literary Review in 2006, critic Nilanjana S. Roy noted that the former’s return to India coincided with “one of the most productive phases of his life.”

About the time he spent in Mumbai or what was then Bombay, Mr. Thayil said: “I spent most of that time sitting in bars, getting very drunk, talking about writers and writing. And never writing. It was a colossal waste. In two years, I've done more than I did in 20 years. I feel very fortunate that I got a second chance.”

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