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BOOK REVIEW: The Exit by Helen Fitzgerald

BOOK REVIEW: The Exit by Helen Fitzgerald

Faber & Faber
February 2015
Paperback, $24.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

8/10

9780571323715

 

23-year-old Catherine is cute:

He hired me because I’m cute. I don’t have a problem admitting I’m cute. I hate people who say ‘Oh, I’m ugly’, or ‘I’m so fat’, when they’re clearly not. I’m slim and athletic. I have blonde hair, blue eyes, and I’m cute as a button, damnit. Ask the seven boyfriends I was with for less than six weeks; they’ll agree. Don’t ask the three I stayed with longer (never more than three months); they’ll tell you I’m a vacuous narcissist.

She hates old people:

I didn’t want to see old people unless someone was paying me for it. I didn’t like them. They jumped the line to get on buses, they drove slowly, walked slowly, packed groceries slowly, paid for groceries slowly, infected us with their miserable faces, had trouble paying gas bills, told boring stories, smelt of wee, took up space. I was ageist, so shoot my firm optimistic face.

And she’s just gotten herself a job at the local care home.
Her mother worries that she has no real plans for her life, has a lot of debt, and makes a lot of bad choices.

 

82-year-old Rose is staying in Room 2 at the care home, and is convinced something sinister is going on in Room 7. But she has dementia and spends stretches of time believing she’s 10-years-old and reliving an old trauma, so who can really believe what she says?

A maze, yes, that’s what it was like. Had she just thought of that now? Clever! She’d been wandering around a God almighty maze, neat trimmed hedges enticing her this way, that, until – inevitably – she found herself at the hedge that had been carved out as a lion, or something, and knew she had been there before, that in fact she had got nowhere, just round and round and round again.

She’s snarky, funny:

It had been three years since Natalie Holland had knocked on Rose’s door with an over-cheerful smile that made Rose assume she was selling Jesus. ‘Go away, please; I’ve decided against heaven. It sounds tiresome.’ Rose shut the door.

And she thinks this new girl might be just the person to help her:

‘I met Marcus yesterday, everyone else today. I’m new.’
‘So you won’t tell them what I’m about to say? You won’t tell anyone till I decide what we should do?’
‘Not a word.’
‘Who do you love?’
‘What?’
‘Who do you love most in the world?’
‘Um, my mum.’
‘You swear on your mother’s life?’
I crossed my heart, said: ‘Hope to die.’
‘Don’t hope to die.’
‘Okay, but I do promise, I won’t tell anyone.’

 

Throughout the first part of this book, Catherine remains a little offstandish, at least on the surface. But we gradually get to know about her life and what makes her tick. This part of the book is mostly entertaining, humorous, and light. There are darker elements, of course, as we learn more about Rose’s trauma, but overall we get the sense that this could just be one of those stories about having your eyes opened and learning to be a better person.

At the first twist, the story takes a more emotional turn. We watch as Catherine is forced to grow up all of a sudden, as the people she cares for deteriorate, and while her relationship with Rose grows stronger.

But the third part.

The third part is where the reader is really challenged.

The story changes so drastically here that it could almost be a different novel entirely, except for the fact that here is where our loose threads come together, here is where the story comes full circle, here is where the truth comes out.

 

Fitzgerald delivers a main character who doesn’t care enough to do anything meaningful with her life, but who is smart enough to know better. Her dry sense of humour, her potential to be more, and the style of writing ensure that the reader immediately wants more for Catherine, immediately invests themselves in her story.

The voices of the characters make this a fast-paced, easy to read novel – one that you wont be able to put down, one that will keep you reading until the sunrise reminds you that, hey, weren’t you meant to be going to bed?

But it is also a very confronting novel. Fitzgerald doesn’t shy away from the dark side of dementia, illness, death, or humanity, and you’ll need a strong stomach to make it through to the end.

 

BOOK REVIEW: The Exit by Helen Fitzgerald

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  1. […] FitzGerald’s previous novel, The Exit, made it onto my list of Best Fiction in […]

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