Monday, December 17, 2012

The Thing About Thugs by Tabish Khair

Because I checked out this book from the library and have already had to return it, this is more of a mini-review than my usual more full-on attention. Since I really enjoyed Tabish Khair's The Thing About Thugs, however, I didn't want it to go unnoticed here.

Set in Victorian London, Khair's novel offers multiple points of view at a time where someone is decapitating members of the underclass. Many suspect Amir Ali, a man hired by Captain William T. Meadows to speak at his phrenological society because of his supposed "thug" background and interestingly-shaped skull. Readers know who the killer is, and it's interesting to see all these different sections of society woven together into one story. Perhaps most notably, we also get to see how Khair himself was inspired to write the book. The way he inserts himself into the story is a bit unusual for most novels, unless those novels are of the more whimsical Lemony Snicket variety, and though it takes some acclimating to get a handle on everyone, I quite liked this narrative method.

In some ways, the darker elements and seeing the killer's point-of-view reminded me of Patricia Highsmith's work, though she did not set any of her stories (that I know of) in Victorian times. The methodical way everyone justifies their bad behavior, killer or not, is also very much like her. The difference is that Khair doesn't write with underlying disdain for society. There is still an element of magic, though not the fantastical kind. It's magic in the form of hope, the willful suspension of disbelief, and the transforming power of a good story. I certainly recommend tracking down this book.

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