From A Smokescreen
Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis has crossed the second hurdle—it has made it to the six-book shortlist to the Booker prize. The book has already dodged past the likes of Zadie Smith (NW) and Martin Amis (Lionel Asbo) that figured in the longlist. “It was a very strong longlist,” Thayil tells Biblio. “I’m absolutely delighted.” Now, the two top favourites in the shortlist are once-Booker winner Hillary Mantel (Wolf Hall in 2009) in the running with Bring Up The Bodies and “radical writer” Will Self with Umbrella, his stream-of-consciousness tale set in a mental asylum at the end of the First World War about victims suffering from sleeping sickness.
Narcopolis, Thayil’s first novel, is set in the drug dens of 1970s Bombay, peopled by unforgettable characters like Rashid, who runs the opium den, and Dimple, the eunuch who fills his chillum and is a secret literary buff. Thayil knows this world well as he has said he lost about 20 years of his life to drugs and his book is being compared to William Burroughs’s Junky or Thomas De Quincy’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater. The fact that he came out of his addiction and got down to the discipline of writing a book is the quiet success story of it making it to this level. “I’m grateful to my family for financial and emotional support over the years. I couldn’t have written this book without them,” says Thayil.
Apart from Mantel and Self, Thayil will be competing with newcomer Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse, Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home and Malaysian writer Tan Twan Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists for the £50,000 Booker prize. The next big date now is October 16, when the winner will be announced, telecast by BBC live. Good luck, Jeet.
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