“At minus five degrees, even the densest blood materials start to turn: the beginnings of a human heart will still into black ice.”
Callum has been given an opportunity: Jozsef’s house is the perfect place to live – plenty of room, a sought-after London location and filled with priceless works of art. All that Jozsef asks in return is for some company while he’s ill and the promise that if it all gets too much, someone will be there to help him at the end. It’s fortunate then, when Callum meets Lauren who works in Human Resources and specialises in getting rid of people. Jozsef welcomes them both inside, and so begins a deadly spiral of violence.
Pushed ever onwards by the poison of ambition, and haunted by loses from the past, these characters are drawn together in a catastrophe of endings. Naomi Booth’s second novel is a groundbreaking dissection of class, xenophobia and compassion. Exit Management will seize you in its cold hands and show you the dark heart within us all.
One of the many absolute joys of joining Book Twitter has been discovering indie publishers whose output consistently amazes me with its quality. It is a very reassuring feeling to know yourself to be in good hands with a publisher, and there are lots of indies who give me this feeling: Influx, Bluemoose, Comma, Louise Walters, and now, added to the list: Dead Ink. Having recently read and loved Cat Step by Alison Irvine, I went straight onto another Dead Ink release, and I have to say, Exit Management by Naomi Booth has catapulted straight onto my top reads of 2020 list. It is an incredible book, and I am sure my review won’t do it justice, so I will keep it brief. Huge thanks as always to Jordan Taylor-Jones for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.
I’ll start with the title: Exit Management wins the award for most layered, meaningful title of any book I’ve read this year. The word “exit” has such powerful contemporary connotations, and indeed, the shadow of Brexit looms over this book. But there are so many more “exits” to be managed in this story, each one deepening the significance of the title in a way which honestly left me in awe. I won’t say more here for fear of spoilers, but trust me, this book has LAYERS. I could probably write an essay on the title alone.
The two main characters, Lauren and Cal, are complex, nuanced and utterly believable, even as the events of the plot skew sideways from the expected. Booth employs a dazzlingly effective close third person, with staccato sentences and sensory impressions aligning the reader with their point of view. Written in urgent present tense, the viewpoint feels only just outside their heads: in a film, the camera would be grazing their cheek as it jolts and shudders with their every movement. It is intense and incredibly powerful. Words like ‘gripping’ or ‘immersive’ are not quite enough to describe the effect this book had on me – I couldn’t have stopped reading if I wanted to (which I didn’t!)
All of the characters in the novel are exquisitely drawn. Josef is a fascinating character, a voice from the past, his italicized stories bringing history into the present, and his relationship with Cal is deeply moving. I love that Booth doesn’t question or judge their closeness, or try to explain it too fully: it is simply a beautiful friendship, a slice of tenderness at the heart of the book. It also contrasts nicely with Lauren’s relationship to her mentor, Mina, a tough, cool woman who teaches Lauren how to survive in London. The city itself also becomes a character in the book, and the descriptions of properties are an effective way of highlighting the disparities of London life. Josef’s house, and the changes it undergoes, provides some of the most meticulously detailed, wonderfully visual descriptions in the book. Again, I found a kind of cinematic, camera-panning quality to the writing, which I adored.
This novel explores so many themes: it seems to cover everything, all of life, wrapped up in a cool, stylish, sometimes cynical package, but with aching truth underneath. It is London itself in novel form: sleek, hard exterior hiding the beating hearts and manifold small tragedies of its inhabitants. Objects, possessions, feelings, ambitions, past, present, possible futures; all collide in this exquisite examination of modern city life.
I was absolutely blown away by the sheer scale and complexity of this novel: it is a staggering achievement. Exit Management is a book I will be thinking about for a very long time, and I can’t recommend it strongly enough. I would even go so far to say it’s my favourite book of the year, which is no small claim, as I have read some fantastic books this year! But this one really got its hooks into me, and left me feeling absolutely exhilarated, as only the very best books do. I can’t wait to read more by this author.
Exit Management by Naomi Booth is published by Dead Ink Books and is available to purchase here.