Naomi Booth’s Exit Management has been on my radar ever since Dead Ink announced its publication. I was so excited (and lucky) to get my hands on an ARC copy thanks to their lovely publicist, Jordan Taylor-Jones! Exit Management showcases the wonderful, unique books being published by Northern indies and Northern writers. I absolutely devoured this book with its compulsive, lyrical prose and complex layers.
Callum is drifting through life, living with his parents, and working a strange job looking after other people’s houses. More specifically, rich people’s houses. One in particular: a beautiful red building in a desirable London location, full of priceless art and beautiful decor, inhabited by an elderly Hungarian man named Joszef. An unlikely friendship blossoms between the two, spanning generations and class, and when Joszef’s health begins to deteriorate, he turns to Callum for help.
But nothing is as simple as that. Callum meets Lauren, an ambitious young woman running away from her Northern roots. Lauren works in corporate HR, specialising in termination of work – exit management. After moving to London from her working-class, unconventional family in the North, Lauren reinvents herself and will do anything to keep up the act.
As the lives of these three characters intertwine, Exit Management explores the things we will do to gain the ‘perfect’ life and exposes what goes on behind closed doors.
The novel has so many complex layers to it in exploring contemporary Britain and the modern age. It tackles class, xenophobia in a post-Brexit world, and the ideals and shortcomings of capitalism. But despite its many layers, the writing is accessible and digestible. Booth’s prose is compulsive, poetic, sharp, and anxious all at once. Her words demand you to notice them, whether they are explaining something beautifully or producing unnerving imagery in the readers’ mind. The novel is perfect for a one-sitting read yet stays with you for days after as your brain processes it all.
A prevalent theme in the novel is about the ideals and byproducts of late capitalism. Booth’s characters have been infiltrated by capitalist ideals: meritocracy, individualism, and productivity. These very ideals are the downfall of her characters – the individualist narrative that capitalism sells tears them apart from their family, their friends, and each other. The novel is critical of this individualism, especially in relation to class and privilege:
“Isn’t the City proof of progress? Proof that things can be clean and fair? Just as long as you don’t think about who cleans the toilets. Just as long as you don’t think about the demographics of who cleans the toilets. Third-party, outsourced, not your responsibility.” (pg. 84)
Meritocracy doesn’t exit, only privileged ignorance that allows people to move up, where blinkers are needed to ignore the reality. The mention of “third-party, outsourced” is interesting, hinting towards migrant workers, people who have come from other places, highlighting a lack of belonging in Britain, despite being part of the working fabric of our country. They are ignored, they are cast aside without thought. Booth’s critique of contemporary Britain is very much of its time and demands that the reader reflect upon this too.
As suggested by the title, the novel features many various ‘exits’, and this word in relation to ‘management’ is key. To manage something connotes control, and Booth’s characters are linked in a neurosis about control over the uncontrollable. There is a disgust and fascination for waste in the novel. Waste acts as the uncontrollable, the waste that goes to landfill, the parts of ourselves that are unproductive. The obsession over these byproducts, the things we consider disposable, highlights the need for control over the undesirable and 'unwanted'. This points to the inhumane part of contemporary society in choosing what belongs and what doesn't. Especially in a post-Brexit world, the idea of who belongs and who doesn’t couldn’t be more prevalent.
Lauren’s running from her Northern upbringing is also fascinating to read. She cannot reconcile the part of herself that grew up in a working-class, unstable family, with the life that she wants in the capital. Instead of working to collate these lives, she runs from her past. This further highlights the brutal way that we view our relationships with others: as disposable. But Lauren’s life in London is far from perfect, and the luxurious lifestyle is always unattainable, just out of reach.
Exit Management has so much more that could be discussed but to really understand, you’ll have to read it yourself. The novel is being published by Dead Ink Books on September 10th 2020 and you can pre-order it here.
Here are a few of my favourite quotes from the novel:
"Was it lost somewhere inside of her, still there a decade on, with the childhood chewing-gum and the acrylic nail and all the other deadly, durable objects that her body can't digest?" (Pg. 6)
"People's faith in each other had been destroyed, he used to say: Fascism, Communism, and now the commodity, they have destroyed any hope that we can deal with each other fairly. But art, Tamás always said, true art exists to keep us from falling into total despair." (Pg. 126)
"That's what it's like, isn't it? Life? All this suffering that we can't actually see, except in these moments, these bright, rare moments, when its illuminated." (Pg. 183)
Thanks for reading,