Sunday, 22 April 2018

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
First published by Hamish Hamilton in 2017.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Flying Birds and one of my WorldReads From Pakistan

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : from £5.39 (PB)
Wordery : from £5.76 (PB)
Waterstones : from : £6.99 (PB)
Amazon : from £3.58 (used PB)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

An extraordinary story of love and hope from the bestselling, Man Booker-shortlisted author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Nadia and Saeed are two ordinary young people, attempting to do an extraordinary thing - to fall in love - in a world turned upside down. Theirs will be a love story but also a story about how we live now and how we might live tomorrow, of a world in crisis and two human beings travelling through it.

Civil war has come to the city which Nadia and Saeed call home. Before long they will need to leave their motherland behind - when the streets are no longer useable and the unknown is safer than the known. They will join the great outpouring of people fleeing a collapsing city, hoping against hope, looking for their place in the world.

I wish I could have loved Exit West as much as the reviewers quoted on the book do, but unfortunately I ended up just a little disappointed. Don't get me wrong. This is still an above average novel and a very good four star read, but I felt it could and should have gripped me that bit more. It should have been a five star and, for me at least, it wasn't.

On the positive side, I did appreciate the tense early scenes in maybe-Syria as Nadia and Saeed's city slowly and then rapidly succumbs to civil war. A line about a flat's boulevard view making it sought after in peacetime, but an obvious target in wartime felt particularly poignant in this week of Teresa May deciding more British bombs is a humane answer. Exit West briefly reminded me of The Cellist Of Sarajevo as streets become impassable, water and electricity supplies fail, and simply standing near a window is to put one's life at risk. In this hostile environment, Nadia and Saeed fall in love. Their relationship is completely believable and I did like these characters, but somehow I always felt detached from them. I am not sure if perhaps I was too often told rather than shown, but I always felt like their story was being recounted to me rather than my being fully immersed in it.

This feeling of detachment became stronger as the book progressed. The dark dystopia of the London scenes grabbed my attention and I did like the idea of the doorways. Fantastical obviously, but a vivid illustration of how migrants are often perceived. There is a sense of menace about the darkness of these journeys and in the way the people taking them just appear, one after another after another. As Nadia and Saeed approached their first doorway, I understood how desperate people would have to be to take such a risk.

Perhaps also a problem with Exit West is that it is a short book, especially short considering the amount of story it has to tell. I wanted more depth and to connect more, particularly with Saeed who, at times, I am not sure I fully understood. Reading back over this review I realise it does have quite a negative vibe which is harsh. I did enjoy reading Exit West and would happily pick up another Hamid novel. I think my expectations were just pitched too high.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Mohsin Hamid / Contemporary fiction / Books from Pakistan


  1. I find that sometimes authors don't give enough of the world for you to get attached,I have this on my shelf and desperately need to read it. Great Review
    Tori @ In Tori Lex

    1. I did enjoy the read so I hope you do too. Looking forward to discovering your thoughts :-)

  2. This was confusing but very ingenious. I liked it overall.

  3. Even though it did disappoint you in comparison to how much other readers are enjoying it, it does sound like you still found it to be quite a very well done book! Just a little bit too much on the short side and cramming quite a lot into that space when it could've done better with more pages.

    1. I think maybe my hopes were raised too high beforehand. It's tricky to judge that influence.