Keeping track of the many clichés sprinkled throughout Mohsin Hamid’s new novel, I found myself assembling a sort of Reader’s Digest-style condensed version of the whole: ‘impressionable youth’, ‘going forward’, ‘in stark contrast’, ‘boggled the mind’, ‘Saeed steeled himself’, ‘there being a nip in the air tonight’, ‘Saeed’s desperate entreaties’, ‘Neighbourhoods fell to the militants in startlingly quick succession’, ‘a thin column of smoke rising somewhere in the distance’, ‘Saeed’s father saw the lemon tree and smiled for what seemed the first time in days’, ‘Vienna being no stranger, in the annals of history, to war’, ‘Days passed like this, full of waiting and false hopes’, ‘insatiable brine’, ‘snatches of beautiful singing’, ‘Jealousy did rear itself in their shanty from time to time’, ‘for time had done what time does’.
Every novelist publishes a bad book eventually. Even Harper Lee was not immune, in the end, to this iron law. With Exit West, Hamid publishes his bad novel. He has already had three good ones: Moth Smoke (2000), a noirish thriller about Lahore’s idle rich; The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007), a dry, despairing parable about Eastern ressentiment and Western complacency; and How to Get Filthy Rich in