Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Published in 2017 by Hamish Hamilton
Advance review copy
*** Thank you to Netgalley, the author and publisher for the chance to read an advance review copy of this novel ***
In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, Saeed and Nadia share a cup of coffee, and their story begins. It will be a love story but also a story about war and a world in crisis, about how we live now and how we might live tomorrow. Before too long, the time will come for Nadia and Saeed to leave their homeland. When the streets are no longer useable and all options are exhausted, this young couple will join the great outpouring of those fleeing a collapsing city, hoping against hope, looking for their place in the world . . .
I enjoyed both The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Moth Smoke, written by the same author, so was really pleased when I was approved to read a Netgalley proof of Exit West, which is due to be published next year. The book follows Saeed and Nadia, a young couple who meet in a middle Eastern city (which is never named), but flee when the city comes under increasing attack. They travel to different countries and have very different experiences – and we see their relationship becoming increasingly strained.
Nadia is a very modern Muslim woman, and has been ostracised by her family for going to live on her own. I really liked her strong character, and I enjoyed the slow but sure development of her relationship with Saeed. It isn’t a mad, passionate love that blossoms between them, but it is more of a gradual romance which felt appropriate and realistic. I really liked how poor Saeed had to don black robes to sneak up to Nadia’s flat so she could tell people it was her sister going to visit.
But for me the book took a serious dip in the middle when the couple flee their homes. It is at this point that surreal elements are introduced – refugees move to new countries by sneaking through hidden doors – and this never quite worked for me. And I also felt that I wanted more about the two main characters, but the novel never seemed to properly focus on them. Interspersed throughout the novel are short sections focusing on other random characters around the world – these stories added nothing at all for me and were just a distraction – in fact I ended up skipping them towards the end of the novel. The book is already quite short, so these interruptions meant that even less of the novel focused on the main characters.
There is little dialogue in the book and by the end of the novel I just felt a bit sad that I had never really got to know Saeed and Nadia, or their families, enough. I liked these characters and their stories and just wanted much more of it! However, I thought the ending was lovely and tied up their story perfectly – if only there had been a bit more of their story along the way!
I think this is an interesting, ambitious novel, but it lost its way for me a bit towards the middle and never really gripped me again fully until the final pages.
My rating: 5 out of 10