The Thing About Thugs
Sometimes it takes too long for a truly unique and memorable novel to travel from one side of the world to the other. This is lamentable. However, the English-speaking world can be grateful that Tabish Khair’s deliciously imaginative novel, The Thing About Thugs, has finally reached us two years after its first publication in India. The novel has been shortlisted for the Man Asian Booker Prize, as well as other awards. One would think this promises weighty reading, or at least a lack of appeal to casual readers. Not so.
This satire on Victorian novels, fascinated with tales of Indian thuggery and violence in the post-colonial era, is charmingly humorous and entertaining. Captain William T. Meadows, obsessed with his phrenological research and in search of perfect villainous skulls, has become fascinated with young Ali, who cleverly plays the thug, relating imaginary misadventures with a ruthless gang back in India to buy his way out of poverty. Unfortunately, a series of gruesome murders coincides with Ali’s arrival in London, and he’s done such a good job of convincing everyone of his violent history that he’s naturally blamed. Now he must prove his innocence. A pure delight.