‘Accessible, acerbic, smart, fun and full of wit.
Poised to be the hottest debut of 2020′
– Exciting Times
[ Book Description ]
When you leave Ireland aged 22 to spend your parents’ money, it’s called a gap year. When Ava leaves Ireland aged 22 to make her own money, she’s not sure what to call it, but it involves:
– a badly-paid job in Hong Kong, teaching English grammar to rich children;
– Julian, who likes to spend money on Ava and lets her move into his guest room;
– Edith, who Ava meets while Julian is out of town and actually listens to her when she talks;
– money, love, cynicism, unspoken feelings and unlikely connections.
Exciting times ensue.
[ My Thoughts ]
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan was published April 16th with Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Naoise Dolan has taken the literary world by storm, with her writing being compared to Sally Rooney and being labelled as ‘an exceptional new literary talent’. Exciting Times is most certainly a book that will divide opinion with it’s quirky style and Naoise Dolan’s take on love, relationships, finance, class and identity.
Naoise Dolan is an Irish writer, Dublin born, who has spent time sampling life across Asia and Europe. Her experiences bring an authenticity to this debut with some really perceptive and witty dialogue throughout. Naoise Dolan’s writing has been described as ‘accessible, acerbic, smart, fun and full of wit….acutely assured and full of razor sharp lines you’ll go back to again and again’ and most certainly has a distinctive and unconventional style.
Ava is the central character of the novel. A young, confused 22-year old, Ava left Dublin for Hong Kong to teach English in a TEFL school.
‘I’d been sad in Dublin, decided it was Dublin’s fault, and thought Hong Kong would help….I knew I’d do anything for money…The richer I got, the harder it would be for anyone to force me to do anything’
Ava, in the initial weeks in Hong Kong, shares an Airbnb, but then she meets Julian. He is a wealthy young banker, an Oxford graduate. Initially the relationship is purely platonic but after awhile Ava spends more and more time at Julian’s place, with him eventually offering her his spare room. Ava treats her relationship with Julian in a very cold manner but, likewise, he has a very offhand approach to her. Theirs is a completely dysfunctional and unbalanced pairing, both looking for something different, neither wanting commitment. Yet, for Ava, she seems to feel she has a certain power over Julian.
‘I wasn’t good at most things but I was good at men, and Julian was the richest man I’d ever been good at’
But Ava is deluded in so many ways. Her underlying issues with self-worth and identity constantly shadow her, weighing her down with a permanent anxiety and a fear of what others think. She uses technology as a sounding board, creating emails and texts that never get sent but do provide Ava with a place to express her inner thoughts and feelings. Julian doesn’t love Ava but Ava is prepared to accept his ways in return for free accommodation, dinners out, nice things and occasional sex when he is in town.
On one of Julian’s longer trips away, Ava meets Edith. Edith is a lawyer, a local young woman with an English education. Ava feels something stir inside.
‘Edith Zhang, Zhang Mei Ling, Edith Zhang Mei Ling. I said the words to myself like I was unwrapping something’
A tentative relationship blossoms and soon Ava and Edith become one. Ava’s personality opens up with Edith. It’s as though her edges are blunted somewhat in Edith’s company but Ava still struggles with her worth. Edith, like Julian, is wealthy but Edith doesn’t have the same relationship with money. Ava lets down her guard with Edith and learns to feel a little of what love could be like. Edith struggles with Ava’s other life, the one she shares with Julian and when he does return a rather unusual balance is temporarily established.
Exciting Times is a perplexing and fascinating read that requires some processing on completion. Naoise Dolan has a very unique approach to the world which does contribute to the originality of her writing. She has spoken quite openly about her autism, most recently in a very insightful piece for the Independent newspaper.
‘Novels taught me how to talk to people. I’m autistic, and when I’m conversing with non-autistics, I get overwhelmed. I’m too busy staying afloat to refine my technique. But when I sit down with a book, I take the words in, learn new phrases and pause to consider the characters’ intentions’
– Source Independent
Exciting Times is a strangely hypnotic read. The style is very much belonging to Naoise Dolan but it did remind me of two recent publications, My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh and Stubborn Archivist Yara Rodrigues Fowler. All three books highlight the daily struggle with identity and culture, and with personal relationships. Each protagonist has a perception of the world that is very much, uniquely their own but they are challenged with life and how they fit into society.
Naoise Dolan is a new literary voice, with Exciting Times a contemporary and unconventional piece of writing. Provides a very intimate portrayal of one young woman’s challenges in life, the narrative can be abrupt, curious and witty, but it is also disturbing and melancholic.
[ Bio ]
Naoise Dolan is an Irish writer born in Dublin. She studied English literature at Trinity College Dublin and Victorian Literature at Oxford University. Since leaving Ireland, she has lived in Singapore, Hong Kong, London and Florence.
Exciting Times is her debut novel, an excerpt from which was published in The Stinging Fly.
Twitter ~ @NaoiseDolan