We are delighted to announce our latest featured recommendation…. the witty and brilliant Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan. We’re kicking off our month-long celebration of this literary gem with a review from the Editor.
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
Reviewed by Alice Beazer
Ratings ( /5):
Existential Angst: 5
Sense of Place: 4
Exciting Times is the debut novel from Irish author Naoise Dolan. I first read the novel last summer, and was more than happy to re-visit this brilliantly witty book for NB.
The first-person narrative reflects upon Ava, a Dubliner and Trinity College graduate who has recently moved to Hong Kong to begin teaching English because she’d ‘been sad in Dublin, decided it was Dublin’s fault, and thought Hong Kong would help’. She’s used her ‘abortion fund’ – the novel is set before the 2018 referendum – to get there. Ava meets Julian, a banker, and soon finds herself moving into his uptown apartment and rubbing shoulders with the expat elite. Soon after, Julian goes away on business; enter Edith, a beautiful young woman, originally from Hong Kong, who quite simply represents and offers everything Julian doesn’t. Things get rather complicated.
Apparently unmotivated by money, critical of everyone and everything – particularly herself – Ava is an interesting and witty narrator, and one whom I would often like to step into the pages and shake! Whilst I can’t say that I loved the characters, I can say that I was fascinated by them; particularly Edith, one of Ava’s love interests in the book. Julian, the English banker, is so well drawn despite the fact he says very little in the novel. Besides the central characters, Ava’s observations of her colleagues and fellow expats are both brutal and funny; ‘Benny was forty and wore a baseball cap on backwards, either to look like he loved working with kids or to stress that he was his own boss and dressed to please no one, not even himself’.
Nolan evokes a vivid image of Hong Kong in readers minds, highlighting the clear, geographically manifested class distinctions which define the city, and delving into the complex history with the British Empire. Irish identity and the destructive forces of colonialism and capitalism are just some of the major themes touched upon within these 288 pages. I particularly enjoyed the way in which Nolan used grammatical explanations, and a commentary on the experience of teaching ‘standard English’ to her students as an entry point into her political observations. Besides tackling the entangled themes of money, class, history and privilege, in Exciting Times Nolan also examines the difficulty of coming out, even in this day and age.
Dolan writes in beautifully clear, minimalist prose, full of wit and political takedowns. After a second reading, whilst I don’t wholly agree with Nolan’s frequent comparisons to Sally Rooney – I don’t mean this negatively, only that their style is not as similar as people claim – I do think that if you enjoy the work of Sally Rooney (or Ottessa Moshfegh or Nicole Flattery) you will adore this book.
I can’t wait to see what Nolan comes up with next.
W&N (Paperback release, 16 April 2020)