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‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ by Mohsin Hamid ****

Published in 2007, and subsequently shortlisted for 2007’s Man Booker Prize, so much of The Reluctant Fundamentalist is still timely and relevant.  In fact, I can hardly put it better than the official blurb, which states: ‘Challenging, mysterious and thrillingly tense, Mohsin Hamid’s masterly The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a vital read teeming with questions and ideas about some of the most pressing issues of today’s globalised, fractured world. ‘

9780141029542The Reluctant Fundamentalist is both spellbinding and important.  It opens in a cafe in Lahore, the capital of the Punjab province in Pakistan, when a ‘mysterious stranger’ comes to sit at your table – for the novel is addressed to ‘you’, an unnamed character from the Western world, who is not given a name or identity of their own.  ‘Invited to join him for tea, you learn his name and what led this speaker of immaculate English to seek you out.  For he is more worldly than you might expect…  He knows the West better than you do.  And as he tells you his story, of how he embraced the Western dream – and a Western woman – and how both betrayed him, so the night darkens.  Then the true reason for your meeting becomes abundantly clear…’.

Hamid’s writing is sometimes rather spare, but if anything, this gives it more power.  In essence, we are party to a one-sided conversation.  We are lulled into the realistic, fluid voice of the narrator, which has been beautifully crafted, and that makes the horrors which he sometimes discusses all the more poignant and shocking.  The inclusion of the second-person narrative perspective is incredibly immersive, and allows us, the reader, to feel an incredible range of emotions whilst reading.  The way in which the conversation takes place over a single day, is a simple yet effective tool which adds more immediacy to the whole.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is the first of Hamid’s books which I have read, but it will by no means be the last.  It is beautifully sculpted, and holds so much importance within its pages.  The multilayered approach, and the way in which interconnected threads and stories weave in and out of the narrative, has been used to great effect.  There is a strength and quiet power to The Reluctant Fundamentalist, as well as incredibly memorable scenes and turns of phrase; the combination of its briefness, depth, and memorability render it nothing short of a modern masterpiece.

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Two Reviews: ‘Romantic Moderns’ and ‘Exit West’

Today, I am reviewing two incredibly different, but nonetheless fantastic, books.  The first is Alexandra HarrisRomantic Moderns, and the second Mohsin Hamid‘s newest effort, Exit West.

Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper by Alexandra Harris ****
9780500289723I had had my eye on Alexandra Harris’ Romantic Moderns for quite a while before picking it up, both as a generally interesting piece of writing, and an aid to my PhD thesis.  Physically, it is a gorgeous tome, with heavy cream paper, and lavish colour illustrations throughout.  In her book, Harris discusses the ‘modern English renaissance’ which occurred during the 1930s and 1940s in quite staggering detail.  She unpicks the period, looking at art, architecture, the nature of possessions, literature, and reclaiming heritage, amongst others.  Whilst a lot of the art did not personally appeal to me, I found the wording and things which Harris touched upon fascinating on the whole.  I particularly enjoyed the chapters on the modernisation of cookery, and weather.  I am also fascinated by the English village, and found the chapter which deals with its preservation far-reaching and insightful.  Harris writes wonderfully; her style is at times academic, but feels readily accessible to a wider audience.  Romantic Moderns does a lot, but it does it all so well.

 

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid ****
9780241290088Exit West very much intrigued me, particularly after very much enjoying Mohsin Hamid’s Man Booker-shortlisted novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist when I read it for the first time a couple of weeks beforehand.  His newest effort has been rather hyped, with the seeming majority of my Goodreads and Instagram friends reading it in a kind of frenzy.  Part of me wanted to know what all of the hype was about before reading The Reluctant Fundamentalist; after doing so, I was sure that when I picked it up, I would be in the company of a clever and original storyteller once more.

Contrary to The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which very much presents a realist monologue, Hamid has chosen to use magical realism in Exit West.  In the novel, which centres around the refugee crisis, black doors begin to spring up.  These doors have the power to transport those who walk through them to different places around the globe; many have no choice but to flee through them in order to escape wars and persecution, but others try their luck simply because they do not see what could be worse than their current existence.  Our protagonists, Nadia and Saeed, live in the same city somewhere in the Middle East; it is never explicitly named.  It is alarming, in a way, to think that the constant bombardment which they live under could happen almost anywhere.

The startling beauty of Hamid’s writing makes the more gory and horrid details seem like short, sharp shocks.  His prose pulls one in immediately, and makes the entire novel feel almost timeless.  Exit West is beautifully descriptive, well plotted, and quite original.  The novel is startling, sad, and so very important.

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