Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

I was starting to worry I’d never read another book I loved as much as Silk. I was telling a good friend about it; they listened, they nodded, and after the Zoom call ended, a gift pinged on the iPad: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.

In a surprisingly low word count, Exit West takes carries us on a stream of consciousness that begins in an unnamed city devastated by civil war, and continues around the world. It’s hard to lump this into any particular genre: definitely literary fiction, with a magical realism element that blends so perfectly that you hardly notice it’s there.

It’s one of the most beautifully crafted books I’ve ever come across; long, flowing poetic sentences that start in a character’s head then spill out into a world coming to terms with itself becoming much much smaller.

Weirdly though, there isn’t much dialogue; the writer relies on the dizzying prose to create the action, build the tension, explore the characters … and even without dialogue the richness of the characters is something I haven’t seen since … well … Silk.

A masterpiece of magical realism that’s well worth reading.

The Young Bride by Alessandro Baricco

I read Silk a couple of years ago, and to this day it remains the best book I’ve ever read. In fact, it was so good, I couldn’t finish another book for months. But I realised … and I’m doing it again: this isn’t about Silk, this is about another piece from Alessandro Baricco’s multi-room writing studio.

I’m not sure how the Young Bride escaped my radar for so long, but when I found it, it was a day of joy. It’s an odd story; a dense, literary tale about a young woman who comes to live with a family of wealthy textile merchants. She has been promised to the Son of the family’s patriarch, but on her arrival she discovers the Son has travelled to England to study manufacturing. No one is sure when he will return, so she decides to wait for him, slowly becoming indoctrinated into the strange domestic and sexual rituals of the Family. After a time though, it becomes clear that the Son is no longer in England; he left the country to travel further, and has not been heard from since. The Bride, now bewitched by the Family, and weaving an intricate web of desire of her own, must face the possibility that the Son may never return.

Yes, it’s Alessandro Baricco, so you know it’s going to be a great book, though that doesn’t mean you’re going to like everything about it. I mean, I like a good poetic read as much as the next would-be writer, but sometimes I found the prose a little dense, to the point that it sometimes got in the way of the story, and that’s a shame because it really is a great story. The characters are perfectly flawed, the setting is immaculately crafted and the pace, while measured, is pretty much what a book like this needs. But occasionally, very occasionally, the story gets lost in the poetry.

But aside from that, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read that doesn’t builds to a gentle but satisfying end.

Seven out of ten