‘Exciting Times’ by Naoise Dolan – Even the Ironies Have Ironic Twists

 

‘Exciting Times’ by Naoise Dolan  (2020) – 242 pages

Early on in my reading of ‘Exciting Times’, I found that Naoise Dolan displays a sharp attitude in her writing which told me that I was going to like this novel. Our twenty-two year old Irish first person narrator Ava gets a job teaching children English in Hong Kong.

Because I lacked warmth, I was mainly assigned grammar classes, where children not liking you was a positive performance indicator. I found this an invigorating respite from how people usually assessed women.”

A little later Ava hits us with the following about this rich cool (cold?) British guy she meets, Julian. :

He’d said everything very slowly that night, so I’d assumed he was drunk – but he still did it sober, so I gathered he was rich.”

A bit later Ava mentions:

For Brits, class was like humility: you only had it as long as you denied it.”

Clever, clever, clever.

There are a lot of sentences in ‘Exciting Times’ with the following kind of ironic twist in them:

Victoria had large teeth. This made it difficult for her to smile without scaring people, which is why Victoria smiled a lot.”

Sometimes these ironic twists make it confusing to follow what is really going on in the novel, but the twists are still fun anyway.

Victoria had left us and joined Julian by the window. She was giggling and doing most of the talking, so I gathered she was laughing at her own jokes.”

You have got to believe me; there are plenty of quotable lines in ‘Exciting Times’.

Sometimes the complicated reasoning is too subtle and acerbic for its own good. And the reasoning never stops. Ava moves in with the passionless caustic Julian early on, and she detests herself for it from the very beginning. Julian comes across as “a banker who would sell his mother to diversify his portfolio” :

I told him he wasn’t always nice to me. He asked for even one example. I said that sort of reaction is exactly what I meant.”

Is Ava just using Julian so she doesn’t have to pay rent, or is Julian using Ava as a sexual convenience?

I looked out my window and told myself it is fair enough to find it stressful that my entire life revolves around someone who does not care very much about me. This is a permissible experience.”

Julian goes away on an extended business trip, and Ava meets Edith who has lived in Hong Kong most of her life. The two hit it off, and Ava invites Edith to stay in Julian’s apartment while he is gone.

What finally is my opinion of ‘Exciting Times’? I admired the sharpness of the writing as you probably can tell, but I found the novel a little stretched out with over-analysis of a complicated situation. Sometimes the reasoning is too subtle and ironic for its own good. Naoise Dolan could remember that there is nothing wrong with being straightforward and direct once in a while. It even helps the reader figure out what is really going on.

 

Grade:   B

 

 

6 responses to this post.

  1. Sounds interesting, but I think if in the end it was nothing but irony I might have got a bit fed up too…

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi kaggsy,
      All the reviews of ‘Exciting Times’ I read mentioned Sally Rooney, but I found their styles quite dissimilar. I expect Naoise Dolan will write a great novel some time, but this one isn’t quite it.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

  2. I am so conflicted about this one – I think it’s going to be good but also worry it might be too ironic for it’s own good? Still, all those quotes make it very tempting.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  3. I liked this one a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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