As with any book by Moshin Hamid, the writing is exquisite. He's the kind of author who could make a telephone book read like a masterpiece. And he does it without ever sounding pretentious or like he's trying too hard. As a reading experience, it's pleasurable. Hamid is an evocative writer - you feel as though you are there in places he describes with the characters. I can clearly visualise each place from the novel.
The trouble with this book, for me, is the plot. The concept is an interesting one - by some sort of unexplained magic, portals start opening randomly all over the world between different places. This of course creates some serious migration issues, as the poor and desperate can suddenly access wealthier countries in a safe, easy way. Most of the story revolves around Saeed and Nadia, a young couple in an unnamed war-town city (presumably from the context in either Syria or Iraq). It charts their life in the city as it descends into chaos, then their escape to Europe through a magical portal, and their lives afterwards.
Both Saeed and Nadia are interesting characters, who were likeable. I didn't feel a very powerful connection with either of them, but I did like them. The first part of the book, describing their relationship developing against the backdrop of a city falling prey to war and violence, was the strongest. The descriptions of life for ordinary people when a developed city becomes a battlefield were extremely well done and moving.
For me, the concept of the doors and the point where Nadia and Saeed went through the door was where the book became less strong. I liked the authenticity of the writing in the first part, but as soon as we got to the teleporting portals that was lost. The descriptions of life in the post-portal world were believable, but the story never regained its momentum after that. I wasn't sure what point was being made - I felt like there must be some profound metaphor underlying the text that I was too dim to see.
Hamid missed an opportunity here. He could have taken his sympathetic Middle Eastern couple and given them a realistic journey to Europe - people smugglers, sinking boats, nations putting up fences etc. I am certain he would have done it in a very believable and hard hitting way that might have given us more insight into the horrible plight of people trying to access Europe that way and all the dangers they face. Giving characters the chance to just open a door and walk through to a safe European country feels like dodging the harsh reality.
Overall it was a well written book that I enjoyed reading but I don't think it will stick in my memory. If anything, I feel puzzled by it. I'll certainly read more of his books, but this one needed a stronger plot structure.
Although the book is ostensibly about displacement of a young couple from a conflict zone. It is also a subtle exposition of the dislocation in place and time that occurs to all of us in the modern world. Even the old woman who has lived in Cailifornia in the same house all her life is dislocated by the change that has occurred around her such that she is a traveller in time. I loved it and couldn't put it down. There were many beautiful formulations of thought and I feel like going back to write them down as aphorisms.
A book, a narrative of two lives, intertwined and fated. A book not of journeys, but destinations and consequences. An extraordinary book. Hamid has deliberately avoided the obvious route of encapsulating the refugee experience, that of escape and journey. Instead he has chosen to focus on the state of displacement, of arrival, of the sense of detachment, unfamiliarity, intolerance and unacceptance. The lives of Nadia and Saeed are enmeshed so tightly as they embark on their reluctant escape from a war torn, violent unnamed Middle Eastern city. But their journey is through a medium of doors...portals to destinations. From the refugee camps of Mykonos to a bizzare, Dystopian almost Orwellian London - divided into Dark London (migrant and refugee) and Light London, purpose built satellite refugee encampments, and on to a new world on San Francisco's Pacific coast. Hamid reveals much of the psychological impact displacement, loss of home and family, uncertainty and the need for companionship the refugee experience must entail. But he focuses primarily on the relationship, the strain such displacement places on the seemingly unbreakable bonds between people. At times a little disjointed, at times a little confusing, but overall a challenging and different insight into a troubled world and the displaced millions that have been forced to choose to inhabit it.
Found the plot very slow moving and containing little or no surprises. Characters were quite bland and overall I was surprised that this made the Booker Shortlist. Having read Hamids previous work I felt that this was very samey offering nothing new.
Loved this book. Easy to read, no fussy excessively descriptive passages. Realistic portrayal of the way that events creep up on us without us realising at the time. Despite feeling a little lost at first, trying to locate the events, I liked that this is not about a journey travelling across geographical areas, but through the lives of people. It took me a few (confused) pages to work out the move to anticipated events but I would definitely recommend Exit West as a thought-provoking read to anyone interested in life stories.
Reaches deep into the psyche of the dispossessed. The concept of going through a door into another life without tracking the painful process, I found engaging.
The pathos of lives that come together during a crisis and cling on for different reasons, become intimate even and the subsequently disengagement of those unnaturally constructed ties are presented in a way that the reader empathisers with the two main characters and is saddened by the result whilst realising that it is the only possible outcome.
The chaos in London, the tension between established communities and the other as well as between those communities within the other, is very relevant to the times we live in.
The four stars instead of five is because I was not certain about the flow of the story to the end.
This novel starts as the menace of a brutally fundamentalist insurgence threatens the lives of potential young lovers and his family. Then a magical realist twist and a disconcertingly credible vision of a London rapidly filling with the world's dispossessed before the characters move further west into a California dream
The book starts off really well. The entire part of the novel based in the home country is convincing and engaging and the characters are excellent. The story just gets silly in London and I felt like giving up on the novel entirely. The story of their relationship is good but the events taking place just left me cold I’m afraid.
I read 'Exit West' compulsively in a few hours. It is an extraordinary narrative, clear, uncluttered, cool but humane. I loved the way it was topical without being preachy or earnest. The slight tangents into fantasy, or a speculative future, were thrilling and thought-provoking.