Mohsin Hamid made his first appearance on the Booker shortlist ten years ago with “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” in a year when Anne Enright took the prize.
“Exit West” is a slim, sparse novel with big themes which centres on a love affair amidst turmoil and conflict. Hamid can be precise in his vagueness and we never learn for sure the country of Nadia and Saeed’s birth but it is, like many others, a nation of escalating conflict.
They meet at an evening class but their freedoms and opportunities become increasingly diminished as militants take over. Nadia wears dark robes to cover herself fully as a way of distancing male interest but is actually far less religious and traditional as Saeed who prays regularly and cannot contemplate sex before marriage. The situation in their homeland worsens and they hear of a fantastical means of escape. Here I could certainly see parallels with “The Underground Railroad” both with its forced migration and the means to achieve this. Whereas Whitehead is masterful in drawing us into his tale Hamid keeps us purposely at a distance with a detached documentary style which actually makes some of the terrible events seem even more terrible.
Whereas Colson Whitehead’s book really took off from the escape onwards I felt that this novel reached its peak before the escape and that the attempts to relocate in a London which is becoming increasingly as tense as their homeland and then to the USA didn’t captivate me as much. Like Whitehead these locations feel highly fictionalised and have a nightmarish quality which is magnified by the pared down nature of Hamid’s writing.
Like a number of the Booker shortlist novels there were moments that were absolutely first class but although I can see its relevance and importance to our modern world I wasn’t totally enraptured throughout.
Exit West was published as a Hamish Hamilton hardback in March 2017
2 thoughts on “Exit West – Mohsin Hamid (2017) – A Man Booker Shortlist Review”
I’ve lived here forever, let’s just say soon it’ll be longer than Slovakia. But the English language never ceases to surprise me, like “discombobulate”. I needed a serious translation…Re this review…I have to admit, it is THE topic, I would not go anywhere near. I am literary allergic to any even literary attempts…re the religion, that a woman has to hide herself behind, not to attract her attention to herself., that is a direct implication, that men in general cannot control themselves……I am no advocate about women’s rights…, but all this garbe as a part of a religion literally insults me…I am almost half frozen, in other words, overdressed by the North England standards…that’s how northerners manage flip-flops in Spain in March, whereas Spaniards are running around in winter anoraks.:)
Basically my literary loss. But it is not only head to toe dressing, it is the escalation of a climate like that…and trying to make a sense of such living. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Life is for living, not being artificially challenged and a constant conforming… Call me a religious heeden, but cowering to any religion, that’s exactly WHAT I DON’T DO…If more people had some more common sense, the life would be much easier
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