Exit West (2016) by Mohsin Hamid Review
Exit West follows Nadia, fiercely independent, and Saeed, furiously restrained, during the brink of the civil war. What starts out as an unlikely friendship ends up on a furtive love affair thrust into premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. After an unfortunate accident, rumors are heard about doors—doors that can whisk people far away to different places, if for a perilous price.
Exit West is a wonderfully written book. It is, at times, utterly poetic, Hamid delaying the plot at times to deliver beautifully structured sentences relating to the setting or the character’s lives at hand. Fortunately, it is not awkward, the flow of paragraphs running together smoothly, making this 200-paged book still a quick read in spite of the slower plot. I even find myself stopping at points just to reread some passages that are truly well thought of and insightful.
Although the writing is a beauty, there is nothing exceedingly special about the plot. It tells a story of two refugees who decide to find themselves through each other in a time of war and loneliness. It is not outright a romantic novel, the narrative hinting only at subtle development within the two leads. The premise about the doors that lead to different places could’ve been used better as the blurb promising a magical realism theme was not really addressed. Also, I felt that the plot loses ahold of itself during the last third, the novel trying to find a conclusion, leading to it awkwardly tying things up with beautiful sentences but an unsatisfying wrap-up for the story and the characters.
Behind Exit West’s beautiful sentences lie a half-baked plot. The writing may be a treasure to behold (and I enjoyed the reading experience in terms of reading well-written sentences), but the plot itself was just underwhelming, the narrative losing all its steam by the last third. It tries to find a deeper meaning beneath the war story, but the message it spells out doesn’t feel fully achieved. All these complex and multi-layered sentences sadly don’t deliver a cohesive whole.