Book Review: Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
Exciting times is a novel full of social commentary, as well as a complicated love story. For me, the novel’s social dynamics sometimes felt a little unrealistic, perhaps due to my personal taste. In her gap year, Ava lives in Hong Kong with a banker named Julian. She teaches at a TEFL school. While Julian is away on a business trip, Ava meets Edith. And as the novel’s jacket says, “exciting times ensue.” While the social dynamics of this novel seemed erratic to me, Dolan is at her best with the social commentary she gives through Ava.
With Exciting Times, many ideas on gender, class, and language are explored and criticised. Dolan, as an Irish writer, illustrates Ireland’s history as well as the position of Ireland, against the backdrop of Brexit. This is the novel’s best feature. Language is very important in this, as becomes apparent with Ava’s job teaching grammar:
“If the Irish didn’t aspirate and the English did then they were right, but if we did and the English didn’t then they were still right. The English taught us English to teach us they were right.”
“He’d voted for Brexit to have tighter borders, and was applying for an Irish passport to avoid being stopped at them.”Exciting Times – Naoise Dolan
This wittiness appeared throughout the novel, which is really striking in the novel.
Though I enjoyed this aspect of the novel, Ava as a character felt detached to me. I could not relate to her and, at times, could not quite understand her or her choices. Because of this, I found myself skipping over her thoughts or even conversations in the novel. The conversations are sharp and quick which does make the novel more interesting.
The other two characters, Julian and Edith, provide various contrasts in terms of class and gender. Of these two characters, I liked Edith best. Edith is a lawyer, and she falls in love with Ava. The relationship between Edith and Ava felt like the opposite of what Ava and Julian had. Additionally, while Ava does specifically discuss her sexuality, their relationship feels normal. Dolan represents queerness as something ordinary, something that does not require elaboration.
Overall, I enjoyed the relevance of some parts of the novel and the love story between Edith and Ava. However, Ava as a character could have been more powerful at some points, which would her a more interesting character to me. Dolan did create an enjoyable novel with her witty comments and insights into society.